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USF Study: Designated drivers not so sober

When it comes to going out and drinking with friends, most students are capable of securing a designated driver.

But according to a USF study, most of these students are putting their lives in the hands of “less drunk” – rather than sober – drivers.

A group of public relations students, led by assistant professor Kelly Werder, conducted surveys and focus-group research for the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and found most USF students think a DUI has the same consequential impact as a speeding ticket.

The groups wanted to see if any correlation existed between students’ knowledge of DUI penalties and their actual drinking behaviors.

Werder said the coalition paid a fee of $500 for primary research and the development of a strategic communications campaign, which will be useful and instrumental in the research’s conclusion.

Student researcher Kelly Douglass said the group set up the survey on, a Web site offering design, collection and analysis services. She said the site helped with random selection; however, the students analyzed the data and set up two focus groups on their own.

Through focus groups totaling 24 students and surveys answered by 406 students, the research showed 48 percent of participants strongly agreed that getting a DUI was something that couldn’t happen to them; yet, 42 percent of those same participants knew someone who had been charged with a DUI, according to a press release from Douglass.

Along with this invincibility factor, the research brought to the surface the “least drunk driver” (LDD) phenomenon. This is when students think it is all right if the person who drives is the least drunk person in the group, no matter how intoxicated he or she is.

“Many people do not even have designated drivers in the sense that the person has had nothing to drink,” senior Monica Richter said. “The person who is driving will go out of their way to let everyone know that they are driving, so they are not going to drink ‘that much’ that night.”

Chris Gaj, a political science student, said he often sees the LDD trend at the nightclub he works at in Ybor City.

“I believe it’s because no one wants to be that guy or girl not drinking or having fun,” Gaj said. “Why go out being the fifth wheel of the group and be sober while everyone is getting hammered?”

Many students justify LDDs as cheaper than taxis or by saying the group doesn’t have far to travel.

“They don’t plan on who will drive before they start drinking, so when it is time to drive home, they choose the most viable short-term solution available,” Werder said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida had 1,274 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2003, and among those, 154 involved youth under 21.

The advanced PR class is also working with five not-for-profit clients this semester. Besides the Tampa Alcohol Coalition, students are working with the Homeless Emergency Project, Girl Scouts of the Suncoast Council, VSA Arts of Florida and the USF Alumni Association. The student teams will present their campaigns to the clients and other invited guests at a Spotlight Event on Dec. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the CIS atrium.