Inspired by young ensign’s death, campaign aims to prevent similar tragedies
On July 22, 2000, U.S. Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, just two months out of the Naval Academy, was killed in Salem County, N.J., by a drunk driver who had been stopped an hour earlier by police on suspicion of driving while drunk, but then released to the custody of a friend, who permitted him to get back behind the wheel.
Since then, the ensign’s parents, Bill and Muriel Elliott, have worked to combat drunken driving in memory of their son, a standout cadet who was selected as a Human Education Resource Officer (HERO) to counsel and mentor other members of his company and was named “the outstanding HERO” of his graduating class.
On Thursday, Dec. 19, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and the Liquor Control Board announced a new, statewide initiative in conjunction with the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers® to promote designated driving and prevent similar tragedies. Pennsylvania is the fifth state to adopt the campaign, which is active in states from Massachusetts to Kentucky, a PennDOT news release said.
The event was held at Red Robin, a corporate sponsor of the campaign in Pennsylvania. As part of the campaign, the owner of the restaurant, Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, agreed to offer free soft drinks to designated drivers at all 20 of its franchise locations.
“Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is totally preventable by not driving under the influence,” said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan. “Don’t risk getting arrested for DUI or worse, for injuring or killing someone by getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated – a person’s driving ability can be impaired after only one drink and this impairment combined with driving can result in the unnecessary tragic loss of life.”
Multiple Pennsylvania agencies will promote the campaign and its message, “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver,” through highway digital message boards, posters in participating bars and restaurants, and thousands of car window decals distributed at upcoming state police DUI checkpoints, the release said.
“Each time someone doesn’t get behind the wheel impaired, or they serve as a designated driver, they’re honoring the memory of people we’ve lost to impaired driving and helping to prevent further tragedies,” said PennDOT Executive Deputy Secretary Brad Mallory.
Establishments licensed to serve alcohol are encouraged to join Red Robin and serve free soft drinks to designated drivers in exchange for providing their friends and loved ones safe rides home.
“This is the time of year when people will gather with friends, colleagues and family to enjoy time together and celebrate the upcoming holidays. Often, those social events include alcohol,” said state Liquor Control Board Chairman Joseph E. “Skip” Brion. ”We encourage our licensees to provide a free beverage option for those who make what could be a life-saving decision to forgo alcohol. If you’re getting behind the wheel, one alcoholic drink is one alcoholic drink too many.”
The HERO Campaign seeks to register a million designated drivers nationally through its website, www.herocampaign.org, and to make the use of designated drivers as automatic as wearing a seatbelt.
Over the past 13 years, the HERO Campaign has grown into a major initiative to prevent drunk driving. The Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants, and New England Patriots all support the campaign by registering designated drivers and serving them free soft drinks at their stadiums, the release said.