Groups set 'safety first' as theme for New Year's Eve

''We want to take away the traditional idea of New Year's Eve as a drunken spree. We don't want to be viewed as a place where people can come and do a lot of drinking and then leave and perhaps have their evening end unfortunately.''

The speaker is a sales representative for the Parker House, a major Boston hotel that is planning its first New Year's Eve party. With its citywide, carefully coordinated ''First Night'' events, Boston attracts celebrants from far and wide for the occasion. But inclement weather is forecast for the area, and visitors could be faced with unsafe driving conditions on their way home.

So, like many other hotels across the United States, the Parker House is offering a New Year's Eve package that includes party and -- for those guests who wish -- rooms at a 50 percent discount where they can spend the rest of the night safely rather than driving home. The hotel, says the sales representative, has more than 200 reservations for the party, and two-thirds of the guests will take advantage of the discounted-room offer.

In Dallas, where the number of New Year's Eve celebrants will be swelled by tens of thousands of fans arriving for the annual Cotton Bowl football game, a majority of the bigger hotels are offering New Year's Eve party packages that include discounted rooms, says Shirley McGuire of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. She reports the hotels are publicizing that particular feature more heavily this year than ever before.

One Dallas hotel, the Adolphus, estimates that at least 100 of its rooms will be used by party-goers, out of 275 reservations.

These are but two examples of the methods being employed this year to put safety first for persons celebrating the holiday outside their own homes. And, say those who follow such matters, there is reason to believe that increasing numbers of people are heeding the dangers of drinking and then trying to drive home afterward.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC) in Chicago, which is widely known for its estimates of the number of likely highway fatalities on major holidays, there is a greater evidence of ''neighborhood'' New Year's Eve parties than ever before. The advantage for party-goers is obvious: They should be able to walk, rather than drive, home afterward.

Otherwise, hosts are encouraged to put up intoxicated guests overnight, call for taxis to take them home safely, or even collect guests' car keys before the festivities so they can be redistributed only to responsible drivers for the trip home.

New Year's Eve celebrations are a particular concern to safety officials, says Chuck Vance of the NSC, because guests ''who have been good all year are intrigued by the rich food and free drinks.''

Still, Mr. Vance sees ''a tremendous movement across the country'' toward safer New Year's Eves.''

Yet another line of defense between ''impaired'' drivers and the rest of the public are free-coffee-and-donut stations maintained along Interstate highways and turnpikes by volunteers. Many of these are coordinated by the Chicago-based REACT International (Radio Emergency Associated Citizens Teams).

REACT executive director Gerald Reese says member units across the US set up the stations at roadside rest areas after advertising and posting the locations well in advance. Some stations even offer needy persons ''drive home'' services.

In a variation on the same theme, motorists traveling some turnpikes will be issued certificates at toll plazas entitling them to free hot beverages at service plazas.

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