Daily Herald
When it comes to driving, all celebrities should be like Mike
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 8/30/2007 12:14 AM

Wrecking a $400,000 automobile would be a big deal for most of us. For the Chicago Bears' Lance Briggs, it's an inconvenience.

Briggs is an NFL linebacker making $7.2 million this year. Paying a likely repair bill on his Lamborghini is the equivalent of a typical Illinois American family dropping about $1,000 on car repairs. Briggs could total a new Lamborghini every month and still have a couple million left for his grocery shopping.

Rumors about Briggs' crash will simmer until after his Oct. 3 court date on misdemeanor traffic charges, but the biggest question remains: Why do rich and famous athletes, movie stars and other celebrities continue to get in trouble with their cars?

I could fill the rest of this column with the names of people such as Tank Johnson, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Haley Joel Osment, the rapper Eve, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Tracy Morgan, lots of Cincinnati Bengals and a cluster of TV stars and athletes who have made infamous news by driving under the influence or otherwise breaking bad with their cars.

"The thing I find so tragic about some of this stuff … is that it ruins, or at least changes, their careers," says Jim Miller, president of the Illinois Limousine Association and president of A-1 Airport Limousine Service headquartered in Bloomingdale.

And there is a foolproof way to avoid that trouble.

"For an athlete or a celebrity not to use a limousine, it's ludicrous," says Jeff Greene, president of the National Limousine Association.

"I don't know why people don't look at that as an option," says Miller, who notes that most companies offer service 24 hours of every day.

It can't be money. A luxury car with a driver generally costs between $45 and $200 an hour, Miller says.

"It's not very expensive," Greene says. "Even if it costs them $500 or $600 [for a night on the town] … that's nothing compared to the costs [of being in an accident, getting arrested for drunken driving or ruining a reputation and losing millions of dollars in endorsements]."

Business executives realize that hiring a driver not only removes the hassle and dangers of driving, it gives them the freedom to make phone calls, work on the laptop or even enjoy a cocktail, Miller notes.

When it comes to driving, maybe the rich and famous should be more like Mike.

On the day Michael Jordan arrived in Chicago to play for the Bulls, he hired a limo to take him from the airport. Then he hired that driver, George Koehler, full time.

While the public still could see Jordan drive his nice fancy cars on the way home after a practice, Koehler handled the duty at other times.

"Michael Jordan is one of the rare ones," Miller says. "Maybe he should be the mentor for some of the others -- at least in that area."

Koehler became Jordan's friend and confidant, and an employee. Other rich and famous folks could use a George Koehler to make sure nothing bad happens during a drive.

"I assume these people have employees -- it would be just one more employee that would make a lot of sense," Miller says.

Many executives and celebrities do have credit cards on file with limousine companies, says Greene. His Greene Classic Limousines in Atlanta has a standing arrangement with Jordan.

"He has a car the entire time he's here. We've got some drivers who have been driving Michael since the 1996 Olympics," Greene says. "One thing I've always admired about Michael is he's always been very responsible."

If privacy is a concern, there are no stories I can recall about a limo driver dishing the dirt, but there are lots of stories about celebrity drivers making the tabloids.

Celebrities who enjoy the thrill of driving their fancy cars can still do it in the right place at the right time. But 3 a.m. on the Edens Expressway would be a perfect time to have a hired driver.

As much sense as hiring a driver makes to us who don't have fame and money, many celebrities who get in trouble driving don't have our commuting experience.

"Most of those people are young kids who never had money like this before," notes Miller, who just turned 60. "If I got a million dollars, I'm not sure I'd make all the good choices right away, and I'm not a young guy."