Letter from America

Letter from America.

Getting from A to B is a serious business for Americans. Look at the success of Driving Miss Daisy. To be a True American, there are certain beliefs that one must accept. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Four wheels are always superior to two
  • Gas power is always superior to any other power source
  • Not pedalling is always superior to pedalling
  • all two-wheeled vehicles, except powerful motorcycles, are toys and should never be considered as anything else

Fortunately, not all Americans accept all of these beliefs. Anthony Panzica doesn’t, and thousands of Americans are better off because of it.

Mr. Panzica, 39, lives in Long Beach California, about ten miles south of Los Angeles. For three years now he has been driving impaired drivers (mostly drunks) home in order to keep them from harming people on the roads of Southern California. He and his cell phone prowl the bar areas of the Beach Communities, and when he finds or is referred to a problem driver, he goes into action.

…Some 16,000 Americans are killed in drunk-driving crashes each year…

The Panzica attitude is simple and direct.When somebody can’t stand or walk, they can hardly drive a vehicle. Now they’re putting me and my friends and family at risk, and I’m not gonna have that’. Some of his ‘clients’ are worried bar patrons, and some are bartenders worried about legal liability from bar patrons. All who come to his attention are offered a free chauffeur to get them home safely, and if they refuse, they are threatened with police intervention.Very few refuse.

This effort started as a personal crusade, but now Mr. Panzica has recruited volunteers and has formed a Scooter Patrol. He says, ‘We tried to come up with a solution to how you get the guy’s car home with him.We talked about a tow truck or a skateboard or maybe folding bicycles. And we finally hit on scooters that fold up.’ The Scooter Patrol’s vehicle of choice is the Go-ped ESR750 electric fold-up scooter. The scooters carry the volunteers around the bar areas, and then return them to the front line after the drunk driver has been safely delivered home.

The Scooter Patrol and its Go-peds are serious matters along the Southern California Beach areas. For example, Seal Beach has 21 drinking establishments within one mile and is the Times Square of local alcohol consumption. Since 2003, volunteers have delivered more than 2,500 impaired drivers home safely.

They know how small their efforts really are, however. Some 16,000 Americans are killed in drunk-driving crashes each year, and the number of wounded is easily five times greater. Folding electric scooters will never solve America’s drunk-driving problems, but they are better than nothing and they at least take a few dangerous drivers off the roads for one night.

Mr. Panzica and his volunteers do not charge for their services, but they accept tips, which help defray the cost of the Go-peds. Local police and businesses encourage these patrols. Drunk drivers are bad for business, especially alcohol-related business.

The Scooter Patrol volunteers with their Go-peds and distinctive uniforms are highly respected in the Beach Communities, but some see the Patrols as shielding drunk drivers from California’s ‘Driving Under the Influence’ laws. Anthony Panzica himself admits to being a reformed drunk driver, and his change of behaviour came after he ran into the full fury of California’s DUI laws. It has been calculated that a first-time conviction without any injuries or property damages will cost the driver at least $12,000, when fines, attorney fees, court costs and insurance adjustments are added up. If there are injuries or property damages, the costs can go much higher.

For this situation, drivers can bless – or curse – groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving which constantly agitate for ever-greater penalties. MADD and its millions of allies are not much impressed with anything that offers protection to drunk drivers. According to some, it would be better for volunteers to act as scouts for the police and to direct them to likely candidates for DUI arrests. Attorneys who specialise in these cases report that 96% of all drivers who get a first-time conviction never get another. The courts deliver a much stronger message than any Scooter Patrol ever will.

Scooter Patrol members prefer to build trust with local drinkers.They post adverts in the bars and ensure that local bartenders have the phone numbers to summon volunteers when they are needed.The volunteers prefer the non-threatening approach, although they will call in the cops as a last resort. No doubt the local police forces have their own watchers, and they quietly use the DUI laws in their own way. It all helps with a problem that really has no complete solution.

Author’s Note: Readers might wish to visit Ken Kifer’s website, one of the most interesting and unusual bicycling sites in the USA. Recently, Ken Kifer was killed… by a drunk driver.

A to B 48 – June 2005