Mark (mhaithaca) wrote,
Mark
mhaithaca

Just don't.

Last night, I learned that a Binghamton University student in a car full of friends was killed in an accident on the way home from Ithaca on Friday night. They'd driven up for Slope Day, Cornell's annual celebration of the last day of classes in the spring, and the 20-year-old driver has been charged with driving while intoxicated.

This has all been swimming around in my head, and I really have a lot of conflicting feelings about it, and differing reactions.

One of the common reactions seems to be, "Uh-oh, Cornell will be in trouble because they were at Slope Day." Well, considering the accident occurred at about 11pm, any alcohol in their systems was obviously from post-Slope activities. Cornell stops serving in late afternoon. Cornell may be an obvious target, but I'd say they're not culpable from a direct serving-alcohol standpoint.

If anything, any blame Cornell might have for this tragedy is the very fact that they stopped serving, sending thousands of inebriated students off to continue drinking in private. Of course, you can't hold the University responsible for what happens after students leave the campus.

Clearly, the proximate blame for this student's untimely death is the driver of the car, who got behind the wheel after drinking. There've been comments that each passenger who got in the car shares some responsibility, but that assumes they knew their underage friend had been drinking, rather than responsibly acting as a designated driver.

One of the biggest contributing factors here, and this won't be an easy problem to solve, is the tendency toward college-age binge drinking that was created by raising the drinking age. "Animal House" notwithstanding, college binge drinking wasn't nearly as prevalent when the drinking age most places was 18, and could be pretty casually enforced because no one gave a damn. No one needed to. There was no booming cottage industry of fake IDs, and when just about every college student could walk into a bar -- on campus, mind you -- and have a glass of wine or a beer without it being a big deal, there was no need for massive amounts of drinking off campus, away from the bars.

Raising the drinking age didn't eliminate drinking among college students in the 18-20 age group, it just drove it underground, where responsible adults can't keep an eye on things. I can also sympathize with the "If you're old enough to vote and you're old enough to be shipped off to Iraq, you're old enough to have a beer" stance, but I think its importance pales by comparison to, "Don't we want college students out exploring their freedoms to do it where someone can see when it's time for them to stop?"

I'm not naive enough to believe that all, or even most, binge drinking would stop if the drinking age were returned to 18. In fact, I'm sure there would be a brief upsurge. But I do honestly believe that, over the span of a few years, the situation would temper itself. We'd still have drunk idiots, we'd still have private parties where people drink too much, and, sadly, we'd still have drunk driving. But maybe those most vulnerable would be better supervised and thus better able to manage.

Meantime, you can make sure you don't drink and drive, or let someone else do so. Find a designated driver. Leave the car where it is and call a cab. Just don't.
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