April 26, 2005

Statistics suggest relatively low rate of drunk driving at U of C

Students at the University apparently are more responsible than their counterparts at other colleges when it comes to drinking and driving. According to the 2004 University of Chicago Student Health Assessment Survey, 89 percent of U of C students did not drive a car while under the influence in the past 12 months, as reported by Kelley Carameli, health education specialist at the Student Care Center. The 2001 Core statistics, which survey health issues on college campuses, show that 75 percent of other private school undergraduates across the nation did not drive a car while under the influence in the past 12 months, as opposed to 91 percent for University undergraduates.

University Hospital researcher Kyran Quinlan, M.D. and MPH, while working at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that alcohol-impaired driving (AID) and alcohol-related driving accidents had increased 37 percent between 1997 and 1999. His research highlights the changing trend in behavior from previous years of study, and will be published in May's issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

One significant trend with AID was its concurrence with binge drinking. From the national surveys conducted, people who binge drink were 13 times more likely to report having driven while under the influence of alcohol. According to Robert Brewer, M.D., MSPH, and alcohol team leader at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC, "Conventional thought is that binge drinking belongs to people with serious drinking issues like alcoholics, but there is an equal frequency with moderate drinkers as heavy drinkers."

In response, each state has passed legislation to make the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) 0.08 percent, and Illinois is no different, having lowered its legal limit from 0.1 to 0.08 in July of 1997. "Arguments used in DWI cases that someone had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 and wasn't impaired doesn't hold water," Brewer said. "What is the legal assumption is that at that level, there is a risk involved. What variation that exists between people as far as impairment is concerned is insignificant, at least legally."

Tom Schafer, chief of communications for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has published a report evaluating the 0.08 Law. In the first 18 months of the 0.08 Law, DUI arrests increased by 10.8 percent, the average BAC of arrested drivers decreased from 0.18 to 0.16. The number of drivers in fatal crashes who had BACs less than 0.1 decreased by 22 percent, and by 13.7 percent relative to the predicted number.

"The University provides a substantial number of subsidized mass transit options throughout the immediate neighborhoods with connections to the City as well," said Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students. "Although these services were, obviously, not designed simply to transport intoxicated students, it is our hope that students who have consumed alcohol will take advantage of these options to ensure their personal safety in lieu of driving and/or walking."

Robert Mason, director of Operations and Communications, said that he did not note a rise in drunk driving incidences, but when a University bus driver notices a drunk driver, the bus driver reports it to the dispatch center, which then alerts the City of Chicago Police. At the University Hospital, Robert Mulliken, director of the Emergency Room, notes that since alcohol-related accidents are not a Level 1 Trauma, they do not see the same numbers of them as in Stroger Cook County Hospital or in Christ Hospital and Medical Center. Mulliken said, "We do see a number of alcohol-related visits, usually from the dorms. One of the biggest dangers here from alcohol is that it's dangerous to be out on the roads. Coming out of the bars, they're set up to get robbed."

Accordingly, local bars have implemented various preventive policies. Steve Pressman, manager of Lucky Strike, described the measures his establishment takes to protect his customers: "Everyone has full alcohol training. From our management at the corporate office, the role of wait staff is to observe, monitor, and record, while managers are to confirm, confront, and resolve. Managers cut people off, and we do so on a regular basis."

Bartenders such as Dan Tompkins of Woodlawn Tap and Michael Block of The Cove practice similar judgment. "Bartender's training is that we don't serve one too many," Tompkins said. "We try to make sure everyone gets home safe; we like our customers to come back in one piece."

At The Cove, Block has been known to give intoxicated patrons a ride home, but usually the customers take care of each other. He did not seem to notice an increase in binge drinking in the past few years, but said that his clientele consists mainly of regular customers.