Wilton SafeRides kicks off fourth year

With more than 80 student volunteers, Wilton SafeRides launched its fourth consecutive year of providing safe rides home to Wilton High School students with a training seminar at Trackside Teen Center on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Wilton Police Capt. John Lynch, Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Secretary Robert Storck, and Trackside Director Mark Ketley made informative presentations to the attendees.

Wilton High School seniors and this year’s SafeRides co-presidents Sam Muirhead and Olivia Nickel also explained the rules of the SafeRides program and Trackside, out of which the program operates.

Olivia got involved with SafeRides her junior year of high school and Sam got involved the end of his sophomore year.

Sam said drinking and driving is “a serious epidemic in our country” that hits close to home.

“My uncle died from being hit by a drunk driver when he was just out of high school,” he said. “I am very glad I have the opportunity to save lives and make my community safer.”

This year’s program consists of eight teams, each led by a student board member and comprised of about 12 students, who are scheduled to work one night per month during the school year.

Wilton SafeRides provides free and safe rides home to all Wilton High School students between 10 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The SafeRides teams work in rotation every one-and-a-half months, said Sam.

“When a call comes in, we ask for the address they are at, the address they are going to, and their phone number,” he said.

“Then two team members — one boy and one girl — leave to go to that address, pick up the caller, and proceed to safely get them to the address they previously gave.”

Students who wish to utilize the program must be picked up and dropped off in Wilton and SafeRide volunteers only give students rides home.

“If multiple people ask to go to the same address, we quickly realize this is not a coincidence and we will tell them we are unable to provide a ride there,” said Sam.

The program is run completely by Wilton High School students for the benefit of Wilton High School students. All calls, all names, and all details of the ride home are kept completely anonymous.

Sam said the program is “extremely popular in the high school.”

“Everybody knows SafeRides, and it’s actually a very comfortable experience because almost everyone in the high school knows somebody involved in the program,” he said.

“Wilton High School is a community where everybody knows each other, so people take comfort in knowing they are being picked up by a peer and not a stranger.”

Olivia said the busiest times for SafeRides are football game nights, holidays and after dances.

“On a busy night, we have estimated to have provided upwards of 100 people with safe rides home,” she said.

To be a SafeRides driver, a student must have a driver's license for at least three months, never had it suspended, and they must drive with a passenger of the opposite gender at all times. A student who does not have his or her license can still be involved as a passenger.

Since joining the program, Olivia said, she has noticed that students at the high school take drunk driving “a lot more seriously.”

“The program is working to raise awareness and help prevent any accidents from happening,” she said.

Sam said SafeRides grows in popularity each year and “more and more people” are using the program.

“From year to year, we see more and more people who want a ride,” he said. “It is encouraging to see how much people trust us to give them a safe ride home.”

Sam said SafeRides is a great program thanks to SafeRides parent board members Mike Safko and Lisa Schneider.

“They do everything so that Saferides is run as responsibly and safely as it can be,” he said.

“By its nature, this program has some potential for liabilities, so it is so amazing of them to step up and take charge and for that I thank them.”

To those who say that SafeRides is encouraging underage drinking, Sam said, “I would completely disagree.”

“With or without SafeRides, teenagers will drink. It is a fact of life,” he said. “With our organization, we are keeping them from getting behind the wheel of a car and putting their life and the lives of everybody on the roads in danger.”

Sam said SafeRides has helped “contribute to the growing stigma against drinking and driving at Wilton High School.”

“I have driven up to parties and seen people fighting with kids who are trying to drive drunk. We are creating a society of young people who know that drunk driving is wrong,” he said.

“I definitely believe it is likely that I have saved at least one life while working for this program, and that is all I need to know this is worth it.”

The Wilton SafeRides program is sponsored by the Wilton Kiwanis Club, the Counties Assemblies, The Village Market, Splash Car Wash and Fresh Green Light Driving School.

Wilton High School students looking for a ride home can call SafeRides at 203-834-CARE.