Posted November 18, 2015
UW-River Falls students today are less likely to drink and drive than those who attended the school 15 years ago, according to alcohol and other drug use data gathered from a 2012 survey. The same survey was given to students who attended UWRF in 2000.
In 2000, nearly 50 percent of male and nearly 30 percent of female students said they drove after drinking any alcohol in the last 30 days. In 2012, those numbers fell to 25 percent of male and 15 percent of female students.
River Falls Interim Police Chief Jon Aubart says he does not know if there has been any significant reduction in the community when it comes to drunk driving. While the number of students drinking and driving may have declined, the number of people arrested for OWI (operating while intoxicated) in River Falls has fluctuated over the last 10 years.
“I think there is certainly a lot more awareness within the student population,” Aubart said. “And we see that there is a lot more young people that walk, or have alternative rides, or sober drivers.”
UWRF Health Education Coordinator Keven Syverson says there are several things that go into reducing the numbers.
“I think it’s kind of the culture. Students understand better than my generation,” Syverson said.
Syverson also said fewer students are binge drinking at UWRF, and more students are not drinking at all. This tends to move the data in a positive direction, he said.
Another factor Syverson suggested that may have contributed to the decline is that Wisconsin in 2013 lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) from .10 percent to .08 percent. However, Aubart says the average BAC of people who are arrested for OWI has not gone down.
“If you look at the data, the drunk drivers that are arrested, the actual amount of alcohol in their system has not gone down that much, it’s still in that .14 (percent) to .15 (percent), that’s the average,” Aubart said. “Which is pretty high considering we have a .08 tolerance.”
However, Aubart said although people are still rather impaired while driving, the penalties for those who decide to get behind the wheel have become more severe. If a person is convicted of OWI with a BAC of .15 percent or above, it is mandatory to install an ignition interlock system in their car.
“That has certainly created another financial burden on the defendants,” Aubart said. “Because it’s expensive, there is a setup cost, also a monthly cost for the time they have to have those.”
The fines surrounding OWI offenses are not cheap, either. The first offense is fine of $150-$300 and license suspension of six to nine months — on top of legal fees. The fourth OWI offense becomes a felony under Wisconsin law, which also has been a change in Aubart’s 24 years with the River Falls Police Department.
“You can have significant penalties,” Aubart said, “but if we don’t change behaviors, people still may want to do those things, so you have to change a mindset.”