The USC south area Residential Education staff, which covers Pardee Tower, Trojan Hall, Marks Hall and Marks Tower residence halls, is currently hosting Alcohol Awareness Week, a week full of activities that will educate students about alcohol safety.
On Sunday, the residential staff kicked off the week with a barbecue social. Students discussed alcohol- and drug-related issues in order to educate themselves about being safe at parties and social events. Wednesday’s event welcomed a speaker from UCLA who had a near-death experience with drunk driving. Today, students will have a chance to win an iPod nano or shuffle by answering Jeopardy-style questions regarding alcohol.
These events have a noble message for students, but the issue with alcohol awareness is that many students fail to apply those lessons to their lives. The facts are great, but what students choose to do with those facts is the deciding factor between life and death.
Tuesday’s speaker, Prison Break actor Lane Garrison, told the story of how his life, as well as the lives of three other families, changed after he crashed his car while driving under the influence of alcohol.
“The hope for this event is to educate students regarding alcohol awareness and to empower them to, if they do so choose to partake in alcohol [consumption], to do so safely,” said Kat Jawaharlal, a graduate student studying public diplomacy and the resident coordinator of Marks Hall.
In 2006, Garrison attended a party with a few high school students he had met one night at Ralphs and ended up killing one of the students in his car because of his decision to drink and drive.
“Everything happened within 19 minutes from the store the first time, to going to the party drinking [two] shots, people getting back in my car, going to the store to get more alcohol,” he said. “I took a sharp turn and my car flipped over, and the young man in the front seat of my car died.”
After Garrison’s tragic experience with drunk driving, his perception on drunk driving changed.
But what I do not understand is why people need a near-death experience or the death of another to convince them that drinking and driving is a bad idea.
What does it take to make people understand the risks and dangers of drinking and driving? Why must people resort to hurting others or themselves to refrain from getting behind the wheel after drinking?
Garrison said he felt he was invincible because of his good character and care for the people around him.
“My perception was ‘Nothing bad is going to happen because I’m a good person.’ I don’t wish harm on anybody,” he said. “So my perception led me to that arrogance of ‘Oh, I’m fine to drink and drive. I can handle that. Nothing bad will happen. I’m a good person.’”
Despite programs and lectures given from elementary to high school, students’ knowledge about and attitudes toward drunk driving often seems passive.
According to Shashwat Patel, a sophomore majoring in accounting and business administration, his definition of drunk driving is “having more than two drinks within an hour and then driving.” However, by law, people under 21 years of age cannot drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. Also, Garrison’s experience proves that two drinks are enough to impair your reflexes.
“I can have more than two drinks, and I probably won’t be drunk. I think I can have more than the legal definition of drunk and still not be drunk,” Patel said.
The perception students have of invincibility is frightening because they believe they can overcome a challenge thousands of others have already proven dangerous and often fatal.
“Theoretically, you’re not allowed to drive [under 21 years of age]. I’ve done it once,” said Allison Dorr, a sophomore majoring in international relations. “I don’t think it’s the safest thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t want to ever do it again.”
The key to preventing drunk driving is to realize that even one drink can impair your judgment and reflexes. That one drink draws the line between safety and danger, life and death. So stop thinking about how many drinks you can hold in your system before it is unsafe to drive, and make the decision not to get behind the wheel after having one drink. Better safe than sorry.
Take it from someone whose life turned upside down and who forever affected the lives of one teenager’s family and friends when he chose to get behind the wheel after drinking.
“Call a cab. Call your parents. Call a friend. Take away someone’s keys. Do whatever it takes,” Garrison said. “Don’t drink and drive. It’s not worth it.”
Danielle Nisimov is a sophomore majoring in public relations. Her column “On the SCene” runs Thursdays.