'Tipsy Tow' will get you home safely this Memorial Day weekend

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer and parties celebrating the holiday -- be they backyard barbecues or road trips to one of Arizona's lakes or rivers -- often involve alcohol. In a concentrated effort to make sure people do not get behind the wheel after drinking, AAA Arizona is offering its popular Tipsy Tow service Sunday night through Monday morning.

“Memorial Day gatherings that involve alcohol can become very dangerous when driving is involved,” said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona. “If you plan to drink, make arrangements to avoid driving. Impaired driving puts all road users at risk.”

AAA Arizona encourages party hosts to offer non-alcoholic beverages for those who will be driving. You also should keep the Tipsy Tow number and the numbers of local cab companies handy, and be prepared to take a guest's car keys if he or she has had anything to drink.

As for party guests, AAA Arizona urges you to make sure you have a designated driver. Also, whether you're the designated driver or a passenger, be sure to buckle up. Not only is it the law, it's the best thing you can do to protect yourself should you be involved in a crash.

To take advantage of AAA’s Tipsy Tow, drivers, passengers, party hosts, bartenders and/or restaurant managers should call 1-800-AAA-HELP (1-800-222-4357) and say they need a Tipsy Tow.  All that's required is the driver’s name, home address, phone number and vehicle/driver location. You don't even have to be an AAA member.

The service will start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 27, and run through 6 a.m. on Monday, May 28.

While the tow truck operators will take the driver, one passenger, and the driver's vehicle to the driver's home, they will not provide transportation to another drinking establishment, event or any other location. The one exception to the destination rule is a hotel where the driver is already staying or is planning to stay. Trips longer than 10 miles will be charged at the towing company's standard rate.

While individual Tipsy Tow calls are not tracked, tow-drivers drivers say people all over the state have taken advantage of the service.

Launched in 2009, Tipsy Tow is the only free program of its kind in Arizona. AAA Arizona offers it for most holidays that are associated with alcohol, including St. Patrick's Day, Labor Day and New Year's Day.

The Phoenix Police Department said nine people died in car crashes in Arizona during the Memorial Day weekend last year. One of those fatalities was alcohol-related.

The number of DUI- related deaths throughout the county is staggering.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there's an alcohol-impaired death somewhere in the U.S. every 45 minutes. What's more, drivers impaired by alcohol contribute to one-third of all traffic deaths.

More than 27,000 DUI arrests were made in Arizona in 2011, according to the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Experts say it doesn't take much alcohol to cause impaired driving. For some people, it's as little as one or two drinks.

According to AAA, a first-time DUI conviction can cost more than $10,000 in fines, penalties, restitution, ignition interlock fees, legal fees and increased insurance costs.

In addition to offering its Tipsy Tow service, AAA is encouraging drivers to pledge to drive drug- and alcohol-free. Click here to take the pledge.