Attitudes around drunk driving are generally consistent — students know it shouldn’t be done.
The Winter 2013 Healthy Minds study, conducted at Cal Poly by a University of Michigan research team, found the percentage of Cal Poly students who report personally driving under the influence of alcohol is relatively low. However, the percentage of Cal Poly students who report having ridden with a driver who was intoxicated is significantly higher.
In trying to quantify the number of Cal Poly students who drive under the influence, Dr. Hannah Roberts of Cal Poly Counseling Services and other campus professionals turned to the Healthy Minds study, a survey emailed quarterly to a random sample of students. According to the study, 3.2 percent of Cal Poly students reported driving in the past 30 days after having four drinks, for women, or five drinks, for men. But a higher number — 11.2 percent — of all Cal Poly students reported they had ridden with a driver who was high or drunk in the past 30 days.
Students are really good at not driving drunk, but they sometimes get in cars with impaired drivers, which is concerning, Roberts said.
DUI arrests by the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) have increased this year, according to Capt. Chris Staley, but not necessarily because more people are getting behind the wheel drunk.
“The reason I believe the number went up this year so significantly is we received a grant that funded an officer to do nothing but DUI enforcement,” Staley said. “So we have an officer now that works Wednesday through Saturday nights, and the only thing he’s responsible for is DUI arrests.”
In 2013, SLOPD made 396 DUI arrests, and a majority of those involved college-aged students.
Fifty-five percent of the DUI arrests occurred in the age group between 18 and 25, Staley said.
In the same year, 61 DUI-related collisions occurred in SLO.
“It’s such an issue in the city, obviously if we have 61 DUI related collisions, that’s pretty significant in a city our size,” Staley said.
DUI arrests seem to be split evenly between patrons of downtown bars and guests of house parties.
Besides a license suspension and getting a misdemeanor offense, a DUI is costly.
The average cost related to a DUI arrest is approximately $5,000, including the court costs, required classes, increased insurance costs and licensing issues, Staley said.
Driving while intoxicated is a decision that may also affect students’ future employment opportunities.
“Any of the choices that you make in college that can result in either misdemeanor or felony charges are those that will affect future employment,” Theresa Fagouri, a health educator in the Health and Counseling Services department, said. “Getting a DUI is something that can take years to clear up, thousands of dollars and employers will ask that now on applications. You want to be able to check ‘no.’ You want to make decisions in college that will best enhance the adult life that you’re striving for.”
According to Fagouri, policy changes may be in the works that would further restrict people, even those of legal drinking age, from driving with alcohol in their systems.
“They are looking at lowering the BAC level from .08 to .05, and a lot of insurance companies and health care providers do support that,” Fagouri said.
In terms of combating the issue of drinking and driving, Fagouri would like to start a safe rides program similar to one implemented at California State University, Chico, where she worked for eight years prior to coming to Cal Poly.
“We had a safe rides program at Chico, and it was a very successful program,” Fagouri said. “I’d love to start one here. It would be Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 2:45 a.m., and with a Cal Poly ID it would be a free ride home within a 3-mile radius. We would need support from numerous entities on campus, maybe donors, and of course the Associated Students, Inc.”
There could be a number of benefits of employing such a program, Fagorui said.
“Safe rides programs reduce drunk-driving rates,” Fagouri said. “They promote safety and they reduce sexual assaults.”