Volume 96, Issue 81
Wednesday, March 5, 2003

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Riding in cars with drunk drivers

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

Not many people are foolish enough to drink and drive anymore, but many teenagers still get into cars driven by their drunk friends.

According to an article published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 32 per cent of students in Ontario admit to having been a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated person.

Paul Whitehead, a sociology professor at Western, said the statistic is evidence of a serious problem. "People might be apprehensive about driving themselves when [inebriated]," he said, while noting people seem to feel more secure letting another person drive.

It is an example of the poor judgment people display when they have had a lot of alcohol, Whitehead said. "Ads that address [the issue of drinking and driving] have been around for a while," he said. "Certainly, even more needs to be done."

"The information is not new," said Richard Garlick, director of communications at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. "In some ways, it's being presented a little bit for its shock value."

"To look at it from a more optimistic perspective, that figure [used to be] upwards of 60 per cent," Garlick said. "We've managed to convince people that getting behind the wheel when drunk is not good."

"I think whenever you focus too closely on one particular aspect of a situation, you run a risk of having unintended consequences," Garlick explained, adding there now seem to be more people smoking cannabis and driving. "The rationale is 'I'm not drinking' [so it must be ok]."

"What would be interesting to know is if the people getting into cars with drunk drivers are also drunk," Garlick stated, noting those individuals' judgment may still be impaired. "Maybe the message needs to be a bit broader."

Ian Howes, a second-year film studies student, said he has been in a car when someone drunk was driving. The statistic was not surprising, he said. "Ideally, it would be lower."

Second-year scholar's elective student Shawn Chopra said he was not surprised by the statistic either. "I thought it'd be [higher]," he explained.

Chopra admitted he has been a passenger in a car driven by a drunk, while adding he felt it was important to make a distinction between how far the drive was and whether or not it was on a highway.

The article was based on the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, conducted in 2001 by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Random samples were taken from 4,211 self-administered questionnaires.


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