Reduction In College Drinking Will Require Coordination Between Students, Police, And School Administration

December 23, 1997

How should college campuses respond to underage drinking and driving after drinking? Tough campus policies will drive drinkers into the community if the community does not coordinate with the college. An article in January/February Public Health Reports by Ralph W. Hingson of Boston University argues that without a coordinated effort between the students, police, and school administration, the problem is simply pushed into another jurisdiction or not dealt with at the source.

Alcohol abuse and underage drinking contribute to the major causes of death among college-age persons. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States for people under age 25 and, for those 15-24, 45% of traffic deaths are alcohol related. Further, it has been estimated that for every person who dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash another dies in an alcohol related injury--drowning, fall, burn, homicide.

Controlled studies have shown that raising the drinking age to 21 has saved 16,500 lives in traffic crashes alone since 1975. But what else can be done?

The legal drinking age laws have achieved these life-saving benefits even though they are not well enforced. Comprehensive community interventions that involve public officials from multiple city departments as well as private citizens and that actively educate and enforce the full range of current alcohol and impaired driving legislation can further reduce drinking or alcohol-related problems. In Massachusetts, one such effort reduced alcohol-related deaths during its first five years for 42% relative to the rest of the state, with the greatest declines found among college-age drivers.

But efforts must in inclusive they are to work. College officials need to collaborate with local city and state officials and students must become involved in the solution. If only city and college officials respond, their initiatives may appear paternalistic and engender resistance among some young people. Ultimately, the problems reside with youth and they must participate in the developing and implementing solutions.

CONTACT: Ralph W. Hingson, ScD, Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health; tel. 617-638-5160; fax 617-638-4483.

Public Health Reports

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