It would be the ideal night to kick off another season of SafeRides, but the student-run service that gives kids in trouble a free ride home won't be up and running this New Year's Eve. The service officially starts up Jan. 10.
Still, teen leaders of SafeRides are hoping that the vital message they have spread for the last four years has sunk into the minds of their friends and schoolmates.
"Even if SafeRides isn't personally able to give a ride . . . what's important is having kids be aware and think, ‘Maybe I shouldn't drink tonight or I should get a designated driver,'" said Christine Brissette, a high school senior and a member of the SafeRides board.
"They know there is that other option out there and have the awareness that if they do plan on parties, they should be thinking about taxicabs or sleeping where they are going," added Miss Brissette.
SafeRides was formed on the Island in the fall of 1998, a year that began with the tragic death of high school senior Ryan Mone in a New Year's Day car crash where alcohol and speed were the main factors.
Island teens continue to drive after they've been drinking or using drugs, but Miss Brissette maintains that such risky behavior is on the decline, thanks in large part to SafeRides.
Surveys of Island teens report that risky behavior is still prevalent and shows no signs of abating when it comes to drug and alcohol use, but local teenagers are at least taking some action to deal with the issue. This year, more than 100 students at the regional high school signed up for a two-hour training session that qualifies them to work as SafeRides volunteers, manning the dispatch post in Edgartown or riding along with a driver.
"SafeRides is also about looking out for one another, teaching kids to be watchful of what's going on around them even when they're not in the SafeRides role," said Pam Carelli, the founder of the SafeRides group on the Vineyard. "Because of the training, they're able to identify someone who needs assistance."
Junior Michelle Holmberg, secretary to the SafeRides board, said the huge turnout will only help raise awareness and convince kids that there's no backlash from placing the call. The main thrust of SafeRides continues to be anonymity.
"No one is going to know about it or make them feel bad about calling," said Miss Holmberg. "They're able to call and get themselves out of an unsafe situation instead of staying put and allowing themselves to get hurt."
"We're out there to help," said Miss Brissette. "We're not trying to condemn things kids are doing on the weekends."
SafeRides is a national program sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, but the Island chapter remains the only one in Massachusetts, largely because of a statewide curfew that keeps 16 and 17-year-olds from driving between midnight and 5 a.m.
That ban is the main reason that SafeRides can't get rolling until mid-winter, when they can recruit from the ranks of 18-year-old seniors willing to give up a Friday or Saturday night to drive.
Thanks to lobbying from Island teenagers, the state legislature is poised to take action on a new state law that grants SafeRides drivers a waiver from the curfew, allowing 17-year-olds to drive in early-morning hours, the busiest for the program.
Town police chiefs would need to grant the final approval for the waivers, but lifting the ban would definitely enable SafeRides to open its phone lines and start car engines much earlier in the school year - perhaps late October.
"The longer that we can be running, the more good we can do," said Miss Brissette.
In its four years on the Island, SafeRides has seen its share of bumps, putting out the call for funding and more adult volunteers to sit through a long night with the teens at the command post at Columbia TV in the Edgartown Triangle.
This past year, SafeRides needed to find a new nonprofit sponsor who could help process grant funding. Last fall, the Island Rotary chapter stepped forward to take SafeRides under its wing.
But SafeRides has also earned recognition. For the second year in a row, students from SafeRides have been invited to the National Youth Leadership Council conference to share their experiences and work with other teens from across the country. The three-day conference takes place in April in Minneapolis.
Such initiatives accomplish the goal of spreading the word that a phone call is often the best way to get out of dangerous situation. They want Island teens to learn that habit even on nights when the SafeRides line isn't taking calls.
"The fact that they're learning to make the effort to get out of a bad situation," said Ms. Carelli, "should be applauded rather than criticized."