Problem Statement: Drinking and Driving is one of the most

Why Massachusetts
College Students Drive after Drinking: Do current policies to stop them make sense?
Robert L. Kramer MA, MS
Public Policy Program
McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies
UMass Boston
Elizabeth Bussiere, , Ph.D. Chair, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Alan Clayton-Matthews, Ph.D. Chair, Northeastern University
Stuart L. Usdan, Ph.D. The University of Alabama
September 24, 2009
For young people aged 4-34, motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer (Subramanian,
2006, NHTSA, NCSA). Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from the NHTSA’s
National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) for 2004 show that more than a third of the
operators involved in fatal accidents between the ages of 20 and 29 had alcohol in their systems. To put
these numbers into greater perspective, while alcohol involvement is considered at .01 or greater, the
twenties group (involved in traffic fatalities) had median BACs of .15 for passenger cars, .16SUVs, and
.16 for pickup trucks (Pickrell, 2006, NHTSA, NCSA). This means that half of those in each category
were about twice the (0.08g/dl) legal limit. Young people are not only drinking and driving, but are
often drinking a lot and driving.
Policymakers face a particularly difficult dilemma in dealing with the issue of drinking and
driving. While the goal of saving lives may seem straightforward, policymakers are constrained by
America’s morally ambiguous attitudes toward alcohol consumption, which glamorizes its use in some
circumstances while vilifying it in others. Additionally, most policies geared toward the reduction of
drinking and driving are based on deterrence theory, which assumes that a behavior will be curtailed
when the cost of engaging in it becomes too high. These policies are politically popular since they focus
on personal responsibility and threaten punitive consequences. Less punitive policies, which focus on
reducing harm by providing alternative means of transportation are often seen as enabling or even
encouraging negative behavior.
While deterrence works on some people, there are myriad reasons that people continue to drive
after drinking. This dissertation surveyed 472 students at six two and four-year colleges in the Boston
Metropolitan Area (BMA) to identify the motivations behind their driving after drinking and (DUI)
behaviors. Participating students completed self-administered questionnaires in-class at the randomly
drawn classes from the six institutions that agreed to allow their professors to be asked if they would
allow their students to participate (out of a stratified random sample of 15 institutions). It was learned
that many institutions do not have a set protocol for requests to participate in research. The survey
examined students’ expectations of danger, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Somewhat novel to studies
on drinking and driving and students, the study explored questions of how students plan on getting to
and from drinking situations, the role and true meaning of being a designated driver, and what students
believe they would do if their designated driver became impaired. The findings of this study are useful
in evaluating the assumptions on which deterrence-based policies are based, as well as for identifying
ways in which what we know about students can be applied to developing policies to reduce DUI and
the harms associated with it.