Metro

Valets’ aid sought on drunk drivers

Proposal is to allow car keys to be held

A city councilor is pushing for new legislation that will use valet companies to keep intoxicated drivers off Boston roads, saying that parking attendants could serve as “the last line of defense’’ against drunken-driving accidents.

Councilor Rob Consalvo of Hyde Park filed an order last week for a hearing to discuss the possibility of a city ordinance to require valet parking companies to withhold car keys from patrons who appear too drunk to drive.

While some valet parking companies already have a “keep the keys’’ protocol in place in cases of intoxication, the new law would establish a uniform policy for valets who encounter drunk patrons.

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Under the proposal, Consalvo said, valet drivers would withhold car keys from those who seem intoxicated; it remains to be determined whether they would be required to do so or just encouraged to do so. The car would be kept in the parking lot overnight without charging an additional cost, he said.

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“Boston has been a leader in being creative to prevent drunk driving,’’ Consalvo said. “This could be another venue where we could be a model to keep drunk drivers off the road.’’

Joshua Lemay, director of operations at Ultimate Parking, said he was intrigued when Consalvo contacted him about the legislation last month. But he worries that the proposed ordinance could make valet attendants legally liable for the safety of their patrons if they fail to detect that a customer has had a couple of beers too many.

“We want to make sure that if, for some reason, someone doesn’t recognize the situation, we aren’t held accountable for someone else’s actions,’’ Lemay said.

Consalvo said he hopes that legislation will complement John’s Law, the 2002 city ordinance that imposes a 12-hour period before people arrested for drunken driving can retrieve their impounded cars.

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Consalvo said he thought of the idea in December, when he read about Andrew Prior, 23, a Northeastern University graduate who was killed in a November 2010 hit-and-run. The driver in that accident, Colin Ratiu, told police after his arrest that he was “blackout drunk’’ at the time of the crash and could not believe that a valet attendant gave him his keys to drive, prosecutors said.

The hearing, which Consalvo expects will take place within a month, will help him iron out the details of the proposed ordinance, he said. In one potential scenario, valet parking attendants would be required to notify a supervisor if they believe that a patron asking for a car is drunk. The supervisor may deny the patron his car keys or, if the patron argues, will call police to administer a breathalyzer test and determine if the patron is fit to drive.

Car owners too drunk to drive would not be arrested; they would simply be sent home, Consalvo said, and if the car is parked overnight as a result, the driver would not be charged extra.

He said he does not yet know who will pick up the tab for the additional parking time.

“There are no arrests; there’s no pointing the finger,’’ Consalvo said. “It’s about keeping drunk drivers off the road.’’

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The legislation may also require valet parking staff to complete training on recognizing signs of intoxication, a course often required of bartenders and restaurant staff.

David DeIuliis, a Massachusetts spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that although it may be challenging to enforce the ordinance, he believes it could be an effective means to reduce drunken driving.

“I like the idea of establishments being responsible for patrons and paying attention to whether or not patrons are intoxicated, making sure they’re getting home safely,’’ DeIuliis said.

Some valet companies, such as VPNE Parking Solutions, already have a protocol in place to prevent drunken driving.

Stacey Vega, the company’s marketing director, said valet attendants are trained to work with restaurant staff to identify patrons who have had too much to drink, call them a taxi, and keep their car keys.

The attendants have also taken a course in “de-escalation’’ to deal with patrons displeased at having to leave their car behind, Vega said. In a worst-case scenario, valet staff call police to handle the situation.

Lemay, of Ultimate Parking, said he wonders whether police would always respond quickly to serve as an arbiter when a disgruntled patron wants his car.

But he has a personal reason to hope that the legislation is enacted: Andrew Prior, the hit-and-run victim, was a close friend of his family.

The man’s death, he said, devastated him. He wants to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

“It’s a terrible tragedy,’’ Lemay said. “And it’s something that I now bring to work with me every day,’’ Lemay said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.