Technology Transfer Series
Whether it's Thursday,
Friday, or Saturday night, 2 out of 3 UNC students return home with a .00 BAC.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sponsored a study
by the Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC) of the University of North Carolina
to develop a program to reduce drinking and impaired driving on a college campus.
During the 1990s, several national telephone surveys documented that drinking was widespread among college students in the United States. These surveys and other studies also documented a variety of undesirable consequences of student drinking. In addition to deaths and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes, college students increase their risk of injury as pedestrians, in falls, and in fires. Alcohol use also contributes to interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, and academic problems.
|Despite all the reports they have heard about student alcohol use, the researchers found that the norm for alcohol use among college students is actually moderation rather than excess at the University of North Carolina.|
Nighttime Surveys Collect BACs
HSRC used a unique approach. They
conducted a nighttime survey where randomly selected students provided breath
samples to measure their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. During the
fall of 1997, BAC measurements were obtained from 1,786 students as they returned
home to residence halls, fraternity and sorority houses, and off-campus apartments
between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
A different picture emerged from the earlier self-report surveys. Although 23 percent of students had been drinking, high BACs were relatively uncommon - 11 percent of the students had a BAC above .08 and less than 2 percent were above .15. On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the traditional party nights, 65 percent of students returned home with a .00 BAC.
|It is clear that heavy drinkers believe they are the norm on campus, whereas lighter, less frequent drinkers, despite being in the distinct majority, believe they are atypical.|
Social Norms Approach Used to Develop Message
Students overestimate the amount
of drinking at college. The norm for alcohol use among UNC college students
is actually moderation rather than excess. The social norms approach to reducing
excessive drinking focuses on helping individuals recognize the reality of student
drinking. It is informative and focuses on the entire student body.
Because the actual amount of drinking
and, therefore, normative drinking are less than believed, simply persuading
all students to understand the misperception should reduce pressures to drink
for those who are light or non-drinkers. The simple facts about student drinking
provide social support for those who don't drink or who drink occasionally and
lightly, since they are in the clear majority. At the same time, this information
should help remove the perceived social support for the behavior of those who
drink frequently and heavily, since they are a small minority.
Program Focuses on First Year Students
After testing several messages, a
basic message was chosen that was clear and easily understood by students: Whether
it's Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, 2 out of 3 UNC students return home
with a .00 BAC. The program initially focused on first year students who
are just finding their niche on campus in hopes of preventing them from developing
the same misperceptions about drinking that characterize older students.
This information about the true alcohol
use norm was given to incoming students and their parents at orientation sessions.
An incentive campaign using posters and stickers delivered the program to the
entire student population. There was a chance for students to win cash if they
correctly knew the "2 out of 3" alcohol fact. A news conference spread the message
throughout the campus community and beyond. Periodic ads in the student newspaper
drew attention to the alcohol fact and to the incentive program.
Survey Repeated in 1999
Two years later, HSRC repeated the
BAC survey during the fall of 1999. They measured student alcohol use again
and awareness of the "2 out of 3" program of a sample of 2,535 students. Of
the first year students, 92 percent were aware of the program; 71 percent of
all students were aware of it. Of those who had heard of the program, 70 percent
understood the fact to mean that drinking is less common or that pressure to
drink is less than is typically believed.
A substantial proportion of students
(54 percent) did not believe that "2 out of 3" accurately portrayed student
drinking. This skepticism may be another indicator of the widespread existence
of misperceptions about college student drinking. Those who did not believe
that "2 out of 3" is an accurate representation of UNC are the more extreme
drinkers, not merely drinkers or occasional heavy drinkers. Belief in the accuracy
of "2 out of 3" is related to the number of drinking nights and heavy drinking
(more than 5 drinks) nights during the past two weeks. Looking at measured drinking
and acceptance of the "2 out of 3" fact, those who had a BAC above .08 when
they were interviewed were more skeptical than those with a lower or .00 BAC
(68 vs 53 percent).
BAC Measurements Show Drinking Declined
The proportion of students with a
BAC above .08 declined from 10.7 to 8.3 percent, a statistically significant
decline of 22 percent. Student incidents involving alcohol also declined in
association with the "2 out of 3" program. Self-reported drinking did not change
from the earlier survey.
Changes in Impaired Driving
Changes in the BACs of persons who
reported they had driven (or were interviewed as drivers) showed the same decrease
found among students in general. Drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher declined
from 2.6% to 1.3% and students with any measurable alcohol decreased from 13%
to 9.7%. These decreases were not statistically significant, however, due to
the small sample size of drivers (n=302).
The report includes detailed information about how the program was developed, the messages tested, comprehensive data and data collection procedures, program materials, posters, stickers, interview questionnaires, web site and media marketing plans.
HOW TO ORDER
For a copy of Development and Evaluation of a Comprehensive Program to Reduce Drinking and Impaired Driving Among College Students, write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590; or send a fax to (202) 366-7096. Patty Ellison-Potter, Ph.D., was the contract manager.
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590
Traffic Tech is a publication to disseminate information about traffic safety programs, including evaluations, innovative programs, and new publications. Feel free to copy it as you wish.
If you would like to receive a copy contact:
Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
fax (202) 366-7096
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