Immediately after their first assignment, which brought them to College Place with a van load of ten students at 11 p.m. on Thursday, Safe Rides’ operators senior Dan Ford and sophomore Remy Benzel were on Lebanon Avenue waiting for their next assignment discussing what would happen if Safe Rides didn’t exist.
According to several of its drivers Safe Rides has been struggling to fill its vehicle’s front two seats.
“If there wasn’t Safe Rides I feel like more walking would happen, like ‘oh I’ll just walk home’,” Ford said. “It can also be dangerous though, like this road right here.”
Ford said referring to Lebanon Avenue, a road parallel to the train tracks that runs through Elon University’s campus.
“Wait, whoa! There is a guy right there, watch out!” Benzel said as a student confidently walked across the poorly lit road right in front of the van.
Ford, a four-year volunteer for Safe Rides, quickly brought the van to a stop to avoid the student. A nerve wracking experience for Benzel, who had never volunteered for Safe Rides before. Both Ford and Benzel said this was the precise reason Elon needed Safe Rides.
Before the program began, in the spring of 1992 Elon student Chad Macy was killed in a drunk driving accident. In response Elon Volunteers! started Safe Rides.
The organization is a student-run and volunteer based program that offers free rides to students to reduce the risk of drunk driving and to ensure students get home safely.
In the last 26 years, since the founding of Safe Rides — Elon has not suffered from a drunk driving fatality on its campus or in the surrounding area, according to Elon’s website.
“It prevents bad decision making. Especially, if you’ve had a night and you want to drive,” Benzel said.
But Safe Rides’ does more than prevent drunk driving. Students such as junior Ellie Snyder, who both uses Safe Rides and has volunteered as a driver, also uses it as a way to get around campus safely at night.
“It’s nice to have a free school sponsored way for people to get across campus safely at nighttime and I feel like it’s a good reliable way to do that,” Snyder said.
But while Synder, Ford and Benzel have all volunteered for Safe Rides many students haven’t — which Benzel sees as a major problem for the organization.
“They have been having trouble getting people that’s for sure,” Benzel said.
To confirm Benzel’s thoughts Elon News Network contacted the Kernodle Center, the Safe Rides faculty advisor and the two student leaders of the organization. The current student director of safe rides and the incoming student director declined to comment on the matter.
The possible lack of volunteers has led to the organization not being able to provide safe rides on some of its scheduled nights, according to Ford.
“The main reasons why safe rides doesn’t run is just because of volunteers,” Ford said. “I know last year … they couldn’t run on a a number of nights … because they just didn’t have any volunteers.”
A problem Ford attributes to the growing popularity of ridesharing app, Uber.
“It’s definitely not as popular as it used to be before Uber came to Elon,” Ford said. “People now, especially Elon students, don’t really mind paying five or 10 bucks for an Uber.”
But despite its drop in popularity, many of its drivers receive multiple benefits for volunteering.
As a volunteer you can be a driver, passenger or a dispatcher at the Safe Rides office. Pizza is provided for all Safe Rides’ volunteers before the start of their shifts. At the end of the year, there is a banquet to show appreciation for all volunteers.
But more than the pizzas and the banquet, when a student volunteers for the organization three or more times they will be moved to the top of the pick up list if they call for a safe ride. Ford even believes it’s a great way to get to know people.
“It’s a good bonding experience with the person that you’re going with,” Ford said. “You spend six hours in the car with them, you’re bound to learn something new about them.”
While you might get to know the person riding with you better, Snyder also believes volunteering helps you get to know the Elon community better too.
“You meet a lot of cool people because people are very open to talking to Safe Rides’ drivers,” Snyder said.
While students and volunteers enjoy the benefits of Safe Rides, drivers such as Ford can only guess the reasons behind the organizations drop in popularity. The student leaders of Safe Rides also declined to comment on why there might be a lack of students volunteering.
Uber may be one cause in the decline but Benzel believes van certification is another culprit.
“I assume van certification, like being able to drive the van is a big filter for people,” Benzel said. “I didn’t get my van certification to drive so if people don’t have that it makes it hard to get rides.”
But van certification is only needed for the 10-passenger van, other Safe Ride vehicles like cars and minivans need no certification to drive. To be certified to drive the van a volunteer must take a course and pass both a written and driving test.
Ford, who is van certified, feels the certification process is needed in order to stop volunteers from driving the Safe Ride vans recklessly.
“The police actually look at us more,” Ford said. “Some people think they can do whatever they want in a Safe Ride and drive sometimes more recklessly.”
But even without van certification, Snyder believes the real reason behind the lack of volunteers are the long hours. Volunteers have to drive from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursdays and 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“It was long and exhausting,” Synder said. “We were in the car for hours and it was late and we were tired.”
The long hours weren’t the only thing that kept Snyder’s experience volunteering from being easy.
“We had a flat tire. So we were in this big van and all of a sudden the tire was completely flat and we had to pull over and it was so bad,” Snyder said. “I don’t know what happened ... it was an interesting experience.”
But despite the issues Safe Rides and their drivers sometimes face, Ford believes there is an easy way to get more volunteers.
“If different groups like sororities and fraternities or just any group did a weekend each semester … and all their people just committed to 10 or 15 spots I think that could be a good idea to get more volunteers,” Ford said.
Snyder, Benzel and Ford all agreed that volunteering for Safe Rides is an incredibly fun experience.
“There is nothing like driving Safe Rides,” Ford said.