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November 2, 2010 > Letter to the editor: Know your limits

Letter to the editor: Know your limits

I answered my cell phone ready to burst out at the telemarketer calling me at 6 a.m... but instead I was greeted with a tainted but very familiar voice of a friend in need of help yet again. My ears caught the sound of mixed emotions in his voice. It was surreal to hear my friend say that he was drunk and had rolled his car over. My friend told me he was in the hospital, had lost his phone in the accident and was able to reach me only because he remembered my number. I wasn't planning on waking up to an event of this magnitude on my Sunday morning.

Use of alcohol is ingrained in American society. The majority of people drink alcoholic beverages in a variety of settings, both private and public. We are also a driving culture with the private motor vehicle as the basic form of transportation for daily activities. Alcohol impaired driving problem is a product of our social institutions, primarily transportation and recreation. It is a well established fact that alcohol impairs the driving ability of individuals and is a major factor which contributes to traffic accidents and fatalities.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that last year nearly 2.8 million students, ages 18-24, were reported driving while under the influence. These statistics remind us that college students are exposed to a higher risk of injury due to the use of alcohol. The Journal of Health Communication suggests that the both sexes of students ages 18-25 are more likely to drive after drinking than individuals in other age groups. This emphasizes the need for the public health system to increase efforts to promote the prevention of DUI situations, especially at college campuses.

Programs such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Healthy People 2010 objectives, and those sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) currently exist in order to combat the issue of DUIs. However, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (A.J.P.M) still identifies binge drinking as a pressing concern. Binging, which is the consumption of five or more drinks on one occasion, was responsible for 13,000 deaths from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in 2006. Survey research by the A.J.P.M also shows that binge drinking is strongly associated with alcohol impaired driving. This highlights the importance for public health involvement to increase efforts to promote the prevention of college campus related DUIs.

Recently, a 21 year old female student from Howard County, Maryland was sentenced to prison for fatally striking a man while driving under the influence. College student drivers are exposed to greater risk because they are likely to have shorter drinking histories and are less likely to act responsibly behind the wheel of a vehicle. The NIAAA's most recent cost estimate of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the United States inclusive of all social and criminal costs is a staggering $186 billion.

Despite the budget crises that many college campuses are facing, it is imperative that we open our eyes and provide our undivided attention to a major public health concern of driving under the influence. Our campuses can address this issue by providing support for effective intervention strategies for their students. When everything from endless heart to heart talks and alcoholics anonymous and counseling sessions fails, it would be comforting for students to be able to turn to the institution that provides them education for help, without having any reservations.

Our institutions have the ability to influence the alarming statistics associated with DUIs through education. There needs to be a stronger focus on prevention of DUIs on college campuses.

Ratanjit Gupta

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