February 4, 2008

Students Urged to Start Safe Ride Program

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At some point, many Cornell students who have cars face the dilemma of whether to drive after drinking at party. Today, many colleges have volunteer safe ride programs, where students can call and request someone to drive them home if they have been drinking and cannot drive themselves — Cornell however, does not have such a program, nor are there any real plans underway to create one.
One of the reasons that Cornell does not have such a program is that students usually walk around campus instead of drive.
“Usually students walk or take the bus,” said Irene Rodriguez ’11. She added that for the most part, she has not noticed problems with students driving drunk.
Free bus passes for freshmen, the high cost of parking and the convenient distance between campus buildings has, in the past, deterred many students from bringing their cars to school. The small number of students with cars on campus has made it so that the cost of a safe ride program would not be worth the amount of use it would get.
In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the number of students bringing their cars to campus.
“We are a residential campus and more of our students are on campus on foot. That has changed in the last ten years; more and more cars are coming to campus,” said Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students.
More students with more cars on campus means that there will be more situations where students have to contemplate driving after drinking at a party. If they make the wrong decision and get caught driving while intoxicated, they are fully subject to New York State laws. DWI is a misdemeanor, however, if a person is caught twice within 10 years, it can become a felony.
According to Charles Howard, sergeant of traffic safety services, students arrested for DWI will be processed through a local court, and will also face being referred to the judicial administrator (“JA-ed”) if they have violated the Campus Code of Conduct. However, although drunk driving has been a problem in the area, Cornell students do not constitute the majority those arrested for DWI.
“In 2007 we had 29 DWI arrests. Very few were actually students. They were usually someone in the community or in the area passing through Cornell for whatever reason. Students make up 25 percent or less of the total,” Howard said.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez, Hubbell and Howard all agreed that instituting a safe ride program would be beneficial for the Cornell community. It is hard to find a downside to something that reduces injuries and helps keep students safe.
According to Rodriguez, a safe ride program would be a good thing for Cornell to have not only to help with drunk driving, but also to help students who are not driving get home safely.
Howard said that he had looked at safe ride programs in different schools. The University of Texas has a program that is well run, but it is also very well supported by donations. A problem with instituting a safe ride program at Cornell is that it would be costly for the program to be well maintained.
There would also be logistical problems in maintaining such a service; volunteers power many safe ride programs. Finding enough volunteers and cars to keep the program running all through the night, even if just on weekend nights, would be very difficult.
“So many things at Cornell happen on student initiative that we would certainly welcome students picking this up and we would support them as best we could in their efforts to do this,” Hubbell said.