September 19, 2007

DWI in Ithaca Not Limited to Students

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Many can remember a moment when an intoxicated friend has to be convinced not to drive. For most students, this confrontation ends properly with the keys being given to someone else, or the friend backing down after some debate. Sometimes, however, students ignore the warnings and risks.

According to data published by the Cornell University Police Department, there was an average of two driving while intoxicated arrests per month last academic year. The CUPD has tracked DWI data since 2003, when the administration requested that an annual report be produced to help evaluate the University’s response. According to Sergeant Chuck Howard, a 38-year veteran on the CUPD, Cornell is “very fortunate that personal injury [automobile] accidents have been practically none,” but he associates this with “pure dumb luck.”

Although the report tracks DWI arrests, it does not track the instances when CUPD pulls over a driver that is “borderline” and requires that driver to use a cab or sober friend to take him home, explained Howard. Students are not the only demographic that worries CUPD and Cornell administrators. Many of those arrested were either visiting Cornell’s campus or not affiliated with the University. Faculty are not immune to drinking and driving.

On March 19 of last year, a Monday evening, a 76 year-old male faculty member with a Blood Alcohol Level of .12, well over the legal limit of .08, was cited for a DWI. Recent news stories, including a feature in The New York Times, have focused on the University of Wisconsin’s push to notify parents when a student is involved in an alcohol related incident on or off campus.

Cornell also reserves the right to notify parents if a student has a chronic problem and needs professional help, according to Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students. “Cornell is also a dangerous place to be a drunk with the gorges. We have around two students fall in to the gorges every year,” he said. One senior at Cornell, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained how he has driven drunk “at least 10 times,” most recently last weekend.

“It does worry me after turning 21 … I’m drinking more so it concerns me more,” the student said. Sometimes, he said, “people try to take the keys from me, but I drive when I’m not thinking clearly and often I don’t remember the next day.” Although the student does use alternative forms of transportation, he complained that “late at night it isn’t easy finding a bus or even a taxi to get you home.”

Ithaca’s taxis provide an effective means to move around campus late at night when bus service becomes less frequent or stops. The Ithaca Dispatch Company owns 18 taxis that service Ithaca, and, according to owner John Kadar, there are plans to purchase more. The biggest logistical problem for Ithaca Dispatch is handling the demand for rides on the weekends, when, Kadar said, “we can handle 1,000 individuals, and it is hard for us to anticipate how busy we will be and where the students will be going.” Ithaca Dispatch Company has made efforts to reach out to local bars, in an attempt to advertise its services for when patrons become intoxicated. It has recently launched a “CabCash” system available to students.

The CabCash works as a debit card, where money is placed in an account and can then be used to pay for cab rides. This will enable students to pay without using cash. The company is currently negotiating with Student Assembly over marketing the service on campus.

“The problem is that we have restriction on how we can help advertise for outside companies,” said C.J. Slicklen ’09, executive vice president of SA. “I think it’s a great program that can cut down on drunk driving and traffic in Collegetown — but the issue that we also need to look at is whether Ithaca Dispatch can handle all the increased demand.”

According to Kadar, Ithaca Dispatch Co. is looking at automating its dispatch system. “Given the large number of calls we do get [at night] we know we can get to everybody but not the time the caller wants us to get there … I know that our service could be better.” Trying to figure out the fare is another source of frustration for students wishing to use taxis as an alternative to driving. Taxis charge riders based on a zone system, and there are three separate variable charges that can be included. These variable charges include a late night per passenger fee, a per passenger fee for a group that is greater than one and a variable gas tax that changes based on the current gas prices.

“Students shouldn’t be overly concerned [with the fare system],” said Kadar. “It is a confusing system because there are layered surcharges and computing it can be messy, but most students will travel to very common locations in large groups that actually are favorable under the zone system.”

When asked whether his taxi company or others could help ease some concerns about understanding the fare system, Kadar mentioned that he is looking at adding a feature on the Ithaca Dispatch Company’s website that will calculate the expected fare.

Whether students use taxis, a bus or a sober friend to provide a safe method of transportation when drinking, Cornell will continue to push for “highly visible enforcement,” according to the CUPD report. Campus events that will receive special resources include hockey and football games, and there will be increased patrols on main roads that run through central campus.