After a long week of having their noses buried in books, many students just want to go downtown to let out their stress and have a couple drinks with friends.
Many of those students are on a budget and don’t want to spend the extra money to catch a cab, so they may drive knowing they’ll have to drive back home afterwards. It’s a scenario that is becoming increasingly common on college campuses across the country.
A 2010 study conducted by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health found that one in five college students admitted to driving while drunk and 40 percent admitted to riding with a drunk driver.
In Texas, a first-time DWI, a Class-A misdemeanor offense, can result in fines up to $2,000, three to 180 days in jail, loss of a drivers license for up to a year and an annual fee of $1,000 or $2,000 for three years to retain a license.
One ad campaign from the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) claims a DWI can cost up to $17,000 total before all is said and done with.
Texas attorney Gary Medlin, who specializes in DUI and DWI defense, has been representing TCU’s students for 23 years and said TXDOT’s campaign is pretty accurate.
“It can easily cost you $17,000 when you add up fines, court costs, probation fees and the $1,000 a year surcharge you have to pay to the Department of Public Safety to be able to continue driving in Texas,” Medlin said.
Medlin also said your “insurance is going to double for 10 years and you’ll have to have an SR22, which is basically an additional insurance policy that’s pretty expensive, and you have to have that for two years.”
And at TCU, any criminal offense is considered a violation of the code of student conduct and can come with a fine from the university. The code follows students wherever they may be, said Assistant Dean of Campus Life Jeremy Steidl.
“Whether a student is here in Fort Worth, if they are visiting home, whether that be in Oregon, or Florida or New York, they are still bound by the code of student conduct,” Steidl said.
“Our students have a responsibility both as a citizen and as a student. So, if they violate a state, local or federal law, then that action also violates the code of student conduct, then they can be held responsible not only from a civil point but also from an administrative point of view with the university.”
The TCU Police Department has a very good relationship with surrounding police departments, said Steidl, so if students have any offenses involving alcohol, drinking and driving or disorderly conduct, it’ll get back to them.
“If we hear about it we will bring them in to discuss the situation and see if they’re in violation, or not in violation, of that particular portion [of the code],” Steidl said.
Conduct violations may also affect financial aid if there are behavioral stipulations with grants and scholarships, but that does not happen often, Steidl said.
Campus Life also works closely with Student Affairs’ Alcohol and Drug Education program, which strives to enhance the university’s academic mission by ensuring drugs and alcohol don’t get in the way of students’ studies. Another one of its goals is to help students learn to make more responsible decisions.
In addition to education, administrators at other universities have tried curbing drunk driving incidents by initiating safe ride programs where inebriated students off campus can call a number to receive a free ride back to their dorm room or apartment.
Last month, the University of Texas Parking and Transportation Services and student government rolled out SafeRide, a pilot program that transports students to their homes from downtown (a popular destination for students).
Rides are provided via Austin-based transportation start-up uRide and sponsored by the student government.
In 2006, the TCU Student Government Association (SGA) looked into launching a similar program, but it was shot down by university officials who cited that students could not transport other students because of liability reasons, according to a previous article in the TCU Daily Skiff.
In 2007, the Skiff reported that the SGA revised their plans using the same company used to shuttle students from commuter lots to campus, but found it to be too expensive.
Several TCU fraternities already have their own safe ride programs, but often are exclusive to only the members of the fraternity.
But the effects of a DWI can follow students for years, even beyond college.
You can’t get a DWI expunged unless it’s dismissed or acquitted, Medlin said. Dismissals are not common, but acquittals can be if you hire an attorney.
“Attorneys charge anywhere from $500 for a DWI, but most attorneys who are any good charge several thousand dollars, up to $15,000 for a first-time DWI,” he said. “And if you win, you might save more in the long run, but if you lose, then you still have all the costs of the DWI that you will incur anyway.”
The worst case scenario would be that someone gets hurt or die. In those cases, plaintiffs can expect to serve jail time, Medlin said.
“The point of the story is DON’T,” he said. “There could be a top ten list for avoiding a DWI conviction, of course, at the top would be don’t rive after having anything to drink.”