Rhode Island is cracking down on drunk driving this fall. State officials will look to reduce accidents in the wake of an almost 50 percent increase in alcohol-related fatalities last year.
Rhode Island saw the third greatest jump in the country despite an overall decline in fatalities nationwide, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The state will receive a federal grant of $972,000 to combat drunk driving, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., announced in September. The grant may be used to fund special programs and more patrol routes in the state, according to a press release.
The State Police Department, Fire Marshal and Business Regulation offices also implemented a task force this month to prevent underage drinking. Though the Underage Drinking and Nightclub Safety Task Force does not aim specifically to curtail drunk driving, troopers and other members expect it will play a role in cases where underage drinkers are provided alcohol at clubs and bars, said Darren Delaney, a captain and district commander with the State Police.
The task force will focus first on areas that receive the most complaints, with patrols then extending to other areas, Delaney said.
It does not aim to patrol college campuses for underage intoxicated drivers. But troopers might follow intoxicated students back to campus if they see them leave a bar or nightclub, Delaney said.
Both state initiatives come in the context of alcohol-related deaths in 2009. Of the 83 automobile deaths in the state last year, 34 were alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This represents a 48 percent increase from 2008.
The causes of such an increase are not known, though certain factors like road design and infrastructure might play a part, Delaney said.
Katie Morison '11 said she and her friends were more hesitant to drive after drinking when they were under the age of 21, primarily out of fear of getting pulled over.
Now that she and her friends are of legal drinking age, she said safety was her primary concern. She said she would consider herself fit for driving only if she had consumed two or fewer drinks in an hour.
"I think now most of my friends just try to make a smart judgment call," she said.
But she said that most students prefer not to drive to parties, remaining on campus or within walking distance.
Deepali Gupta '12 has a car on campus. She said most of her driving is for practical reasons, such as buying groceries or going home.
"Especially at Brown, drinking and driving really don't intersect," Gupta said.
Though most of her friends do not have cars, she said she knows people who sometimes drive south of campus to attend parties.
She said tolerance level varies from person to person. Though Gupta — about five feet five inches tall — would not consider driving after a glass of wine, someone of a larger build might, she said.
If a friend had been drinking but felt fit to drive, Gupta said she would trust their judgment. She herself, however, would only ride with them as a last resort.
But some students said they have witnessed late-night erratic driving, possibly by intoxicated drivers, on campus. Morison said she sometimes sees cars speed down campus streets, especially Wednesday nights. Wednesday is the traditional Brown night at the Fish Company.
The Brown Department of Public Safety coordinates with the Providence Police Department on cases of drunk driving around campus, said Paul Shanley, deputy chief of Brown's police force.
There have been 16 arrests for drunk driving since Jan. 1, said Lieutenant John Ryan, District 9 commander for the Providence Police Department. He said that figure is about average.
"I have a few drinking establishments in my district," he said, referring to Fish Co. and the bars on Thayer Street. The most recent alcohol-related accident occurred on Oct. 3 at College and Benefit streets.