Operation Red Nose is suspending its safe ride service for the 2020 holiday season because of safety concerns around COVID-19.
The program, which connects volunteer drivers with party-goers who want to get home safely after enjoying a few holiday drinks, has been used by thousands of Canadians since its inception in 1984, but staff say they made the necessary decision to suspend it after careful consideration of the current public health situation.
Marie-Chantal Fortin, national development coordinator for Operation Red Nose, said the safe ride service is just one component — although a very large one — of the operation.
"That decision was very hard to make for sure ... however we're still going to have road safety awareness as we normally do," Fortin said.
Fortin said the safe ride program is usually available in more than 100 communities throughout seven provinces in Canada. Since the program came to B.C. in 1995, it has provided more than 100,000 safe rides home.
Last year alone there were 3,031 volunteers across B.C. and 5,399 rides given to British Columbians wanting to get home safely during the holiday season.
Each safe ride requires three volunteers: one to drive the vehicle of the person who made the call, another to navigate, and a third who drives another vehicle that picks up the other two volunteers.
The operation takes donations, which stay in the community and are used to support local youth programs.
"Our host organizations are ready to come back, our volunteers are wanting to come back, but it's just not going to happen this year. But yes, most definitely 2021 we'll be providing our service again," Fortin said.
In 2019, $152,110 was raised for local charities in B.C. alone.
Across Canada, Operation Red Nose attracts nearly 50,000 volunteers, and while most won't be needed this year for driving duties, the organization thinks of them as ambassadors.
"Most of our volunteers are ambassadors for our road safety message throughout the year and we're certainly counting on them to be active ... we're definitely relying on all of them for that," Fortin said.
Fortin said Operation Red Nose will reveal details of its 2020 awareness campaign in November.