Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, September 4, 2013
There’s a new Facebook app available that connects college students with sober drivers even before a sip of booze is consumed.
The Person Appointed to Stay Sober (P.A.S.S.) app was launched earlier this week by the Texas Department of Transportation at three Texas universities – the University of North Texas, Midwestern State University and the University of Texas at Brownsville – as part of a year-long pilot program to reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes in the Lone Star state. According to Government Technology, those three schools were chosen to pilot the app because TXDOT wanted “a good sample of different sized institutions in various parts of the state.” Use of the app is not restricted to just those three schools, however.
“Drinking and driving continues to be a serious problem here in Texas,” Becky Ozuna, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation, told Government Technology. “We just continue to see injuries, fatalities and jail time. And the reality is that these are all entirely preventable.”
According to the TXDOT, drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 were involved in more than 7,000 alcohol-related crashes in 2012, resulting in more than 2,000 serious injuries and 231 fatalities.
Students using the Facebook app can search for friends that will agree to be sober drivers for a particular event. The app also gives students the ability to offer their services as a sober driver and pledge payment amounts. Interested students need to log into the mobile-friendly website with their Facebook credentials to use the program.
The TXDOT chose to integrate social media into its public relations campaign for P.A.S.S. this year because it believes that sites like Facebook and Twitter are much more effective when it comes to communicating with college-age students.
“Social media is a huge part of how college students communicate with each other, so the thinking was, ‘Let’s go to where they already are,’” Ozuna added. “They’re already using Facebook to plan parties and events.”
One of the schools chosen for the pilot program, the University of North Texas, did not have any of its students involved in an alcohol-related crash in 2012. That hasn’t stopped the school’s administration from continuing to look for ways to educate students about the effects of alcohol consumption, however, including requiring students to take an online course if they are freshman, under the age of 21 or involved in Greek life.
“This is a great way for us to continue to look at the problem and see how we can possibly make changes if the app isn’t working the way it should,” Maureen McGuinness, the dean of students and assistant vice president for Student Affairs at UNT, told Government Technology. ”I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction.”