September 4, 2008

Students Push for Safe Ride Initiative Launch Next Fall

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2.1 million college students drive under the influence of alcohol each year. In response to this staggering statistic and other safety concerns, students at Cornell are taking steps to start a safe ride program, which will provide students with free transportation at night.
The program should be up and running by Fall ’09.
Sanjiv Tata ’09, president of the Residential Student Congress and sponsor of Resolution 18, which pushes for the creation of a safe ride program and was presented in the Student Assembly, explained that the “safe rides” will be run by trained student volunteers. Three to four vans, coordinated by a central dispatch, will pick up students and take them back to their residences between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
However, although the service would be offered to all students, it is not meant to replace cab services, but rather for those students who may get behind the wheel and cannot otherwise get home.
Students seeking the service will be covered by the Medical Amnesty protocol. The RSC will provide a majority of the funding, with the hope that the program becomes a byline-funded organization of the Student Activity Fee.
The RSC, in conjunction with the Student Assembly Committee on Residential and Community Life, called for the program’s establishment in the resolution, which was presented last spring.
The resolution, also sponsored by S.A. President Ryan Lavin ’09 and Ali Austerlitz ’11, cited the 1,700 students that die yearly due to alcohol related injuries, the 31 percent of Cornell students who consume on average five drinks per night when they go out and Cornell’s geographically expansive terrain as reasons behind the push to implement such a program.
“Given the diverse terrain and geographic scope [of Cornell], sometimes it’s not the safest thing for a student who has been drinking a bit to stumble back to their residences late night when it’s dark and he or she is under the influence,” said Lavin.
However, concerns have been expressed regarding the program. Allen Bova, director of Cornell Risk Management and Insurance, stated in an e-mail that duplication of blue light efforts, costly commercial insurance for vehicles, competition with local taxi and livery services, the safety of drivers and passengers, health concerns and sustainability issues need to be resolved.
“The service looks like it is meant to enable bad behavior by facilitating attendance at alcohol events,” Bova said.
The resolution also cites the increasing number of cars on campus as a reason for the program, insinuating that more cars may lead to increased drunk driving. However, David Jay Lieb, assistant director of Cornell Transportation and Management services, said that there has actually been a dramatic decrease over the past several years in the number of cars on campus.
Moreover, Charles Howard, sergeant of Cornell traffic safety services, said that the number of alcohol related accidents has steadily decreased, averaging fewer than two per year.
Tata countered some of the concerns, stating that the blue light efforts are highly underutilized and do not offer the same door-to-door service. According to Kathy Zoner, deputy chief of Cornell police, only 20 calls were made between October ’07 and October ’08 for the blue light escort service.
Tata also addressed Lieb’s statement citing a decrease in the number of cars on campus.
“It’s quite apparent that there is a walking hazard as well. If students aren’t bringing cars, they are probably walking,” Tata said.
Safe ride programs have also successfully been implemented at numerous peer institutions, including Yale and Princeton.
However, the S.A. recognizes the concerns at hand and plans to form a subcommittee to address these issues.
“Our goal is by the end of this semester to really have a formal proposal that has everything covered — from the organization that’s going to be formed, the students that will be recruited and the cars,” Lavin said.