Let me preface this by saying that my assignment was supposed to be a simple review of the Victim’s Impact Panel. Instead, I wrote an article that not only reviewed it, but also dug a little deeper into why OSU didn’t do more to prevent drunk driving. This is what the O’Colly printed, and the following is what I submitted.
Oklahoma State University will tell you that they do not condone drinking and driving. There are many alcohol education programs on campus that teach the dangers of such a thing, and they also provide counseling and treatment programs for students who have been caught drinking and driving or for those who want help.
One such program took place Wednesday night, when the University sponsored the Oklahoma Victims Impact Panel. VIP is a program that addresses three aspects of drinking and driving: the victim, the offender, and the rescue professional. Each with a unique point of view and often a very touching story, but with a common message, “If you’re going to drink, don’t drive.”
The victim, LaDonna Shoemaker, shared the tragic story of loosing her mother and sister on New Year’s Day after their SUV was rear-ended. Every year, her family returns to the stretch of highway, which they have since adopted, where the accident took place. “It’s our way of giving back to the community, but it’s also our way to grieve. We sing, we laugh, we cry,” Shoemaker said.
The offender, Paul Tharp from Edmond, told the story from the other side of the coin.
“I’m an alcoholic,” he said.
Paul, was out one night, and had too much to drink when he blew through a stop sign and, at 80 mph, hit another vehicle. He received 10 years in prison. When he was released, he did not change his ways and began to drink and drive again.
“This time, I flipped my truck in the ditch. My dad came driving down the road behind me and pulled up and said, ‘What are you doing?’,” Paul said, “I was in trouble with the law again and was going back to prison when a friend of mine came up to me and asked if I wanted to change, it was then that I found Alcoholics Anonymous.”
The slightly disheveled man said that the hardest thing was knowing that he had taken the life of someone else because of a bad decision that he made.
Finally, Lt. Sam Walker of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol spoke about the tragedy that drinking and driving brings to families and the pain of having to tell someone that they have lost a loved-one.
“When you knock on that door in the middle of the night, you change someone’s life forever,” Lt. Walker told the at-capacity Union Little Theater.
Tyler Harrison, a freshman elementary education major, said, “I hope that people learn that one bad decision could change your life forever.”
All of these stories culminated to the same message – if you’re going to drink, don’t drink and drive. One decision that each of us make can change our lives forever.
Simple in its brevity, but how is the University putting it into practice? What sense does it make to preach not drinking and driving yet providing few opportunities for students to practice it?
It would be futile to tell students not to drink. The Student Government Association does little to offer alternatives to parties or the bars on the weekends. Many of the activities are over by 10:00 p.m. and there are few scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights.
In fact, aside from the occasional sporting event or scheduled intramural game, there is little to do in Stillwater on the weekends. Want to see the new movie at the Carmike? Unless you get the tickets in advance, it’s a crapshoot whether or not you’ll get in. Want to go bowling? Great, if you don’t mind sharing a lane with high school kids.
Anyone who is 21, or has a passable fake, can attest to the number of people out on Thursday through Saturday nights, it’s near impossible to move in J.R. Murphy’s after 1 a.m. With all of those students drinking, is it feasible to believe that they are all getting home safely; either by walking or getting a ride from a sober driver?
“It’s one thing to drink but it’s another to be over the legal limit,” says Lt. Mark Shearer of OSU Police, “anytime someone has been drinking and gets behind the wheel of a car, it’s a concern.”
One option is to expand The Bus’s schedule to run until 3 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday through the Strip to Greek houses and dormitories for students who live on campus. This would allow for students to get home faster and safer with out needing to drive or walk.
Another option is to bring back a free ride service for students. It could be operated, by alternating Greek houses, who are always looking for opportunities to help the community and campus. What better way than keeping drunk students off our roads? The University should fund it so that it could stay a free service and instead of waiting for a phone call from students, sit outside the bars like a shuttle service.
Ival Gregory of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs said, “the idea (provide rides from the bars) is not new or unique. But, when the University has programs like this in place, they are passively condoning the use of alcohol which I don’t think is something the administration wants to do.”
Students are not going to stop drinking. So instead of investing money and time in to programs that address the concern after they have been caught, or programs that only affect those in attendance, why can’t more be done to make sure if students are going to drink that they do it in a safer environment?
In addition to implementing these strategies, the local law enforcement has to become more involved with punishing drunk drivers. In 2008, 56 Driving Under the Influence violations were issued by OSU Police, or one per weekend. Are we really to believe that of all the people driving home from the strip or from Joe’s on Thursday, only one per weekend is above the legal limit?
OSU Police maintains that the Strip is outside of their jurisdiction and they only respond to requests for assistance from Stillwater Police.
The city of Stillwater has a slightly higher statistic: 258 violations issued in 2008. Almost five times as much, but not all of those are OSU students. Lt. Sam Walker said it best, “Every time I arrest someone for drunk driving, I know that I’ve saved at least one person.”
When it comes to drunk driving, the police are not the bad guys, it’s illegal to drink and drive, no matter how you look at it.
Oklahoma State is not doing enough and it is only a matter of time before someone makes the decision to drink and drive and takes the life of themself, or someone else. Alcohol-related driving accident is the number one killer for people in our age group. Why aren’t we doing more to prevent it?
Education programs are great, and in some ways very helpful, but at the end of the night, all it takes is one person to make the choice to drink and drive. Where will you be? At home? Crossing the intersection of the stop sign they miss? In the passenger seat? Do you want to take that chance?