One way to get help starting a designated driver service would be to expand an existing brand by buying a franchise or joining an organization as a charter.
Never get into a franchise or business relationship of any type without legal advice. Visit their websites, find out how they operate and do your homework before even contacting them!
One opportunity we want you to check out is STEARCLEAR - The Designated Driver Franchise in a Box. Your clients use a simple smartphone app and you run your business from an iPad!
Another option is to let your business be "powered by ScooterGuy". ScooterGuy has spent the last 4 years building a solid DD service in St. Louis, Kansas City and Knoxville.
Here are the other opportunities we found in our list.
DrinkingAndDriving.Org has no relationship with DDAA, DDI, Destination Drivers, Sober-Scooters, or Another Choice and none is implied. STEARCLEAR has sponsored our National Directory of Designated Driver Services and this Tools page. Powered by ScooterGuy is a Sponsor of DrinkingAndDriving.Org. This information is provided purely as a resource for people interested designated driver service business opportunities. If you know another designated driver franchise/charter opportunity we should list, let us know.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are huge supporters of community-based solutions known as 'Safe Ride Programs'. Unlike commercial or non-profit designated driver services, Safe Ride Programs as described by the NHTSA may offer rides or they may not. They may serve the general public, or they may consist of and serve the students of the local college. They may do things like reward citizen designated drivers at sporting events. They might produce PSAs and encourage use of a designated driver. I know I make it sound like they are all over the map with this, but the NHTSA's website has many pages of suggestions for starting all sorts of Safe Ride Programs, all with a focus on designated driving.
Let's face it. Starting a business is not for everybody! The NHTSA's site can give you a lot of alternative ideas to think about.
But if you are convinced that you want to be a community-based designated driver and get people home safely in their cars, you'll want to acquaint yourself with the NHTSA's materials on designated drivers and then form a group. And we've found just the place to organize your group ...
SafeRides US is a totally FREE service which organizes scheduling, dispatching, teams, email reminders, emails, forms, sponsors, and more. It's a great way to get up and running with all the basic tools you need to operate a designated driver service.
DrinkingAndDriving.Org has no relationship with either the NHTSA or SafeRides US and none is implied. This information is provided purely as a resource for citizens interested in learning as much as they can about drunk driving prevention and doing as much as they can to prevent drunk driving. If you know another resource for starting a community-based designated driver service that we should list, let us know.
Fold-away scooters come in two basic varieties - Seated and Stand Up. Seated folding scooters can generally go faster than standup scooters, but they are heavier, larger, and can be more expensive.
There is only one major brand of seated fold-away scooters available in the United States. That brand is Di Blasi. The exclusive US distributor of the Di Blasi brand is Folding Motorbike, Inc. They have two-wheel gas or electric scooters as well as electric tricycles. Definitely intended for short hauls, max speed on each is 30mph. Typically deployed in heavily populated city areas where traffic is already slow, use of a chase vehicle is common. A single SUV could easily act as a chase vehicle for 5 scooters and their drivers.
Here are pictures of a folded gas scooter and an unfolded electric tricycle ...
Di Blasi Folding Scooters
PRICE: Starts at $2995 for gas engine without $125 bag
SIZE FOLDED: 29.5”x23”x12.5”
WEIGHT: 64lbs dry
Di Blasi Folding Tricycles
PRICE: Starts at $3295 without $125 bag
Meanwhile, folding stand up scooters have a top speed of only 20-22mph, but they are smaller and lighter.
The only major manufacturer of Stand Up Folding Scooters is Go-Ped. They have several models.
Here is one called the GSR Sport ...
PRICE: Under $700 no bag
SIZE FOLDED: 36”x14”x14”
WEIGHT: 24lbs dry
It is possible that use of scooters may present special insurance concerns. They will certainly present special safety concerns! Be sure to consult with your insurance company and your lawyer before deciding on a scooter strategy.
DrinkingAndDriving.Org has no relationship with Folding Motorbike, Inc., Di Blasi Scooters, or Go-Ped and none is implied. This information is provided purely as a resource for designated driver services interested in using folding scooters for their business. If you know another scooter manufacturer we should list, let us know.
Sometimes I get these calls or emails that go like this ...
"So one night, I'm sitting in this bar, thinking how are some of these people going to get home safely, when all of a sudden it hits me! I'll start a service to give safe rides to drunk people."
... followed by ...
"Then I came to your site and saw there are lots of these services out there. Can you give me some advice?"
While nobody at DrinkingAndDriving.Org runs or has ever run a designated driver service, we have spoken extensively with a number of companies in the course of maintaining our National Directory of Designated Driver Services. We've learned quite a bit about how many of these companies operate and some of the challenges they face.
Our first piece of advice is to treat this the same way you would treat starting any other type of business. Lawyer up and consult with your accountant! Always understand what is legally required of your business and make sure you are prepared to comply with all local, State, and Federal laws. Make sure you understand what information you will require from your clients (ID, vehicle registration, proof of insurance, etc.)
Here are the questions you want to ask yourself before starting a designated driver business ...
Why Am I Starting A Designated Driver Service?
Let's get one thing out of the way right now. Success in the designated driver industry is not measured in dollars. It is measured in drunk driving instances prevented. Make no mistake about it; designated driver service is one of the toughest industries to make a living in. You don't get into this profession to make a buck. You become a designated driver service to keep drunk people from driving. There is no other entity that does this for a living. The cops take drunk drivers off the road, but designated driver services give people a safe and legal alternative to driving under the influence in the first place.
The good news is that we foresee designated driver services becoming a growing industry. Since people won't stop drinking and driving, it is likely that before long we'll see court-mandated ignition interlock systems on about 1,000,000 cars per year! This will happen as more states and eventually the entire country adopt mandatory ignition interlocks on all DUI offenders' cars! Papa may have gotten a DUI and had an ignition interlock slapped on the family car, but that doesn't mean Mama can't go out drinking. And no matter who uses the car now, somebody's gotta blow clean.
Is There Support For Designated Driver Services in My Area?
Surprisingly, some communities are simply not interested in designated driver services. You want to ask around the community and find out how people feel. And I hate to say it, but the FIRST place you need to ask is your local police department! I have heard anecdotal stories in a couple of areas where marked designated driver service vehicles were being repeatedly stopped and searched by the police for open containers. This happened to one service often enough that they were turning down calls to some parts of their city because they couldn't guarantee an arrival time. So make sure your local authorities are on board first. Find out who your local community leaders are and tell them what you intend to do. Literally ask them if you have their approval, if not support.
How Will My Business Operate?
There are many considerations when first putting together a designated driver service. Two decisions that you will make right off the bat will likely set the permanent tone of your business. Will you be a non-profit or a commercial company and will you use fold-away scooters?
Non-profits tend to come about when a number of bar and restaurant owners in an area agree to pitch in and donate money toward the service for their clients. People who start them usually have either a well developed set of contacts in the local restaurant industry, or an intensely compelling personal story which compels local business owners to act.
Non-profits are usually smaller, doing business with specific bars and restaurants. They are easily affected by the flow of business at just a few establishments. In other words, when the economy is not well and restaurants are not doing as much business, donations dry up pretty quickly. So a prime consideration when deciding to go non-profit will be the strength of the clients you can obtain. That said, there may be advantages and options available to non-profits where you are and the best advice you can get will be from an attorney.
Commercial designated driver companies are usually bigger and busier, serving the general public, instead of the clients of specific bars, restaurants, and local events.
Creating either a commercial company or a non-profit will require legal paperwork, proper tax filings, and quite possibly patience! When DrinkingAndDriving.Org was formed, it took about six months just to get our IRS Letter of Determination (what a non-profit needs before anyone will talk to them.)
Many companies using scooters brand their business with them and incorporate the word 'scooter' in their name. Therefore, a decision to use scooters or chase vehicles may determine more than how your drivers will get around town. To begin with, if you haven't yet read the article accompanying The National Directory of Designated Driver Services, or the bit on Fold-Away Scooters at the top of this page, you should now.
OK. So now picture your service in action. You know the territory you will be working in. Imagine your drivers on scooters going 30mph, avoiding highways, maybe in bad weather. Will this work for you? Within tightly crowded cities, it can and does..
But if you will be providing service to a larger area, then scooters simply may not cut it. Sending two drivers in a chase car is the most popular option. But there are some services out there using a mix of chase vehicles and scooter drivers to maximize travel time. An SUV can drop scooter drivers off around town, help them return to town from far away clients, and get them to their next clients more quickly.
Many designated driver services use paid membership plans as a primary way of attracting and keeping customers. This is attractive not just because it brings in money up front. Membership plans also give you the advantage of knowing where your client needs a ride to before they call. If there are waivers and paperwork a client needs to sign, that can be done before they ever use the service. Local businesses may be interested in group membership plans where you agree to provide service to the entire executive staff as needed.
If you decide to implement membership plans, it is worth remembering that most companies offering membership plans also take non-member clients. Doing both as opposed to one or the other may mean more paperwork on the back end, but it makes sense to give every safe ride possible.
It is worth considering other related services that you can provide. Party buses, full-evening driver, concert and sports event transportation are examples of similar services which we see incorporated into designated driver services. In fact, sometimes it happens the other way around. An existing transportation service providing chauffeurs and limousines will occasionally add designated driving to the services they offer. Diversification can be good for business. I've seen some offer service to Urgent Care and physical therapy patients who have been medicated or bandaged and can't drive themselves home. Consult with your lawyer if you plan to do this.
How am I Going to Communicate With My Drivers and Clients?
We've all been in a taxi and seen the good ol' fashioned radio at work. You don't see much radio usage in designated driver services. About half the time, your driver will be in somebody else's vehicle. Cell phones are the norm for communicating with drivers. So somebody will be manning the phones not only with customers, but with drivers too. As calls for rides come in, the right driver needs to be dispatched to the right location. You may need to provide your drivers with directions. Remember, your clients may not be able give reliable directions. Directing a chase vehicle among several drivers can be challenging too.
Think about how you will handle these tasks, because they are at the heart of providing efficient service. There are automated solutions, most of which are intended for large transportation companies and priced accordingly. Obviously, smartphones like iPhones or T-Mobile phones running android have GPS capabilities that can help tremendously. Still, all these interactions need to be overseen by somebody. Take a look at STEARCLEAR for an example of how a modern designated driver service can be run. Customers and drivers use smartphone apps and the whole business is operated through an iPad application.
Can I Find Reliable Drivers?
Your drivers must be carefully selected. Never hire anyone in a hurry just because you have an immediate need for a driver. Always remember that your customers are possibly going to be in a vulnerable state when your driver arrives to take them home. Your driver needs to be prompt, polite, friendly, respectful, and above all, honest! Always respect the opportunities presented to a designated driver in the field.
Before you hire any individual, do a background check on them. You need to know two things - their driving record and their criminal history if they have one. Background check companies will offer you much more information than you need and the prices for various background check products can add up quickly. So stick to what you need. The safety and confidence of your clients should always be your top priority.
What About Insurance?
Insurance is the greatest expense you will have in operating a designated driver service! You will need at least standard vehicle insurance for any scooters or chase vehicles you are deploying. I'm sure you expected that. The real expense comes with the need for General Liability insurance that protects your business in the event of accidents, errant actions of your employees, and misunderstandings with clients. Unfortunately, there is no single company to go to for this. You will need a savvy insurance broker who understands what a designated driver service is.
How About Franchises? Are There Any?
The one actual franchise opportunity that we've identified so far is STEARCLEAR. They offer a turnkey designated driver business solution that is modern, efficient, and comprehensive. STEARCLEAR manages background checks, credit card processing, even employee taxes.
There are several other companies we've found so far who actively seek expansion into new territory through permitting use of their company brand and methods (licensing) or charters. They are listed in the Franchises/Charters box on this page.
How Do I Get The Word Out?
Advertising is costly and there are many ways to go about it. Immediately, you may find yourself torn between wanting a flashy wrap on a chase vehicle and your clients' frequent desire for invisibility. Most of your rides will prefer your service to be transparent to everyone else around them. Magnetic signs are good because they can be removed for customer privacy.
Going old-school, print is far from dead! And in the newspaper, few sections get passed around and shared like the Sunday magazine. Consider that a single copy of the Sunday magazine in your local newspaper gets read by several people over several days. If you are thinking about spending on print, it's a good target.
Partnering with particular bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues can be extremely effective. Obviously, if you are already servicing particular bars, you Need to concentrate your efforts there. Coasters and napkins are natural choices and there are a lot of varieties out there. Anything you give to a bar owner should fit 3 criteria: It should be cheap, creative, and a good match for the bar's atmosphere.
Here's one we like. It's called The BarCard. The barcard is a customizable coaster that doubles as a marker for your drink when you leave it unattended, but haven't finished it yet. The best part is that each one has your business card on a perforated edge.
What Else Is There?
You tell us! If you have questions we haven't answered, let us know by emailing us. We'll update this article with anything interesting and useful we learn.