University of Missouri - Columbia.
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Posted 11.15.05

Negative Consequences Don't Deter Student Drinking, Driving

COLUMBIA, MO -- Research shows that college students have a higher rate of drinking and driving than other age groups. Law enforcement officials have designed methods to prevent this behavior. However, a new study by a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher shows that experiencing negative consequences, such as arrests or citations for driving while intoxicated, may not be an effective deterrent to persistent offenders.

"The findings support the idea that the perception of risk a college student takes when drinking and driving may not be significantly reduced by exposure to negative consequences," said Denis McCarthy, Mizzou assistant professor of psychology. "In fact, participants who experienced consequences are at an even higher risk for future drunk driving than those with no consequences."

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McCarthy tested whether students who experienced negative consequences from drunk driving either as a driver or passenger would hold different beliefs about drunk driving than their peers who had not experienced any negative consequences. He surveyed 938 students to assess past consequences from drinking and driving, as well as current alcohol use and drinking and driving behavior.

He then asked the participants about their views on the likelihood of being stopped by the police and arrested, and gauged their attitudes about drunk driving by asking how dangerous they thought it was to drive after one, three and five or more drinks. McCarthy also examined participants' attitudes toward drunken driving alternatives, such as calling a taxi, how their friends felt about drunk driving and whether they had been in trouble with the police for drunk driving or in a car accident after drinking.

Overall, McCarthy found that the participants who had experienced prior negative consequences from drinking and driving were not deterred from doing it again. Furthermore, even when controlling for their high rate of drinking and driving, the students still perceived drinking and driving as less dangerous and more acceptable to peers.

There was some evidence, McCarthy said, that experiencing a personal consequence might increase the perceived likelihood of a negative consequence from drunk driving. This is consistent with other studies that show that drunk driving offenders most often cite the threat of sanctions as their motivation for avoiding drunk driving. However, this perception does not lead to a reduced frequency in drunk driving, given that the prior offenders in the study reported the highest drunk driving frequency.

McCarthy believes these findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, can prove beneficial to both intervention and treatment programs.



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