Targeting drunken drivers

Ayesha Akbar

Earlier this month, celebrated UT soccer player Kylie Doniak was crossing a street near campus when she fell victim to a brutal hit-and-run. According to a recent Austin American-Statesman article, Doniak suffered severe injuries, leaving her in critical condition at Brackenridge Hospital. Family and friends poured out to address this tragedy as Doniak, an active 22-year-old, lay still on paralytics.

Nicholas Colunga, the 22 year old driver, was arrested.

Although Colunga does not attend UT, a large number of intoxicated drivers today are college-aged students. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an annual 3.3 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 drive under the influence. In addition, the UT Police Department has recorded an astounding 250 drunken driving incidents in its jurisdiction over the past three years.

As students in a city renowned for its nightlife and sizeable university, we need to be concerned.

Every time an intoxicated driver takes hold of the wheel, potential for death and injury loom around the corner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30 people in the United States die every day because of drunk driving. In 2009, one-third of all deaths on the road involved alcohol and, in that same year, Texas led the nation in road fatalities caused by drunk driving.

As alcohol increasingly becomes a norm of college culture, it is imperative that proper communication exist between University Health Services, UTPD and UT students to increase student access to reliable transportation. Many have seen scores of intoxicated students attempt to clamor onto a single E-Bus on Sixth Street when reliable taxi service is nonexistent at worst and overcrowded at best.

Although the University enforces educational training through resources such as AlcoholEdu, more practical means must be enacted. Such measures could include increased accessibility to E-Buses, especially on high profile days such as New Year’s Eve and Halloween, and advocacy for small, nonprofit groups such as Austin Sober Ride. We must accept responsibility for both the advantages and concerns that arrive with hosting a thriving student population and ensure that safe and reliable methods of transportation are within easy reach.

It would be naive to assume that easier access to safe transportation can single-handedly eradicate the most habitual drunk drivers. The city of Austin should look into enforcing stricter laws concerning drunk driving and relay harsher penalties for those found guilty of repeat offenses. In 2010, Austin police chief Art Acevedo pushed for DWI charges for a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.07. Measures such as these would help deter even light drinking before getting behind the wheel and may stress the importance of maintaining a designated driver. As Acevedo put it, “A person may be intoxicated at 0.05, and you don’t want them out driving.”

It is easy to read textbook cases illustrating the consequences of drunk driving. UT and the Austin community need to step up to the challenges posed by being in a young and vibrant city and ensure that effective transportation and strict implementation of law is readily available.

Akbar is a psychology, Arabic and humanities sophomore.