Twelve percent of Hillsdale College students asked say they have driven drunk.
In a survey recently conducted by The Collegian, 55 of 480 Hillsdale College students admitted to driving while under the influence at least once. Additionally, 111 students — 23 percent — admitted to riding in a vehicle operated by an inebriated driver.
These numbers indicate that Hillsdale students are significantly less inclined towards drunk driving than the average college student.
In 2010, one in five college students admitted to driving while drunk while 40 percent acknowledged they had ridden with a drunk driver, the University of Maryland School of Public Health found.
Dean of Men Aaron Petersen said that Hillsdale students seem less likely to abuse alcohol now, whether through drunk driving, drunkenness, or underage drinking, than when he began his job.
Despite the apparent change in behavior, he said, “every semester it seems at least one student makes a significant mistake with alcohol.”
Assistant Dean of Men and Interim Security Director Jeffery Rogers said he hopes the survey will result in a student-led dialogue on the importance of responsible drinking.
“We’re hoping Hillsdale students will step in. We hope that students will rise to self-governance,” he said. “They have a grave responsibility. People need to say, ‘You’re not driving’ and take keys. When you pop open that Miller Lite, you get a lot of responsibility.”
Though many cases of drunk driving go unnoticed, some attract the attention of Hillsdale authorities. At the beginning of this semester, a Hillsdale student received a police citation for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent.
The student had consumed both wine and a mixed drink made with Everclear.
“At first, I didn’t think that I should drive back [from a fellow student’s residence],” the student said. “But I thought ‘It’s not that far of a drive.’ I figured it would be OK.”
While driving up Galloway Street, the student clipped a tree, drawing the attention of the college security team.
“They called the police after they saw the damage to the car,” the student said. “The police did a field sobriety test on me and they said my eyes were jumping around too much.”
Once at the police station, the student took a breathalyser test and was booked. The student is now awaiting a pre-trial hearing.
“You have to be careful because stuff like this can mess up your future fast,” the student said.
Driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or more can lead to stiff penalties in Michigan, especially if the driver is under 21.
First-time operating while intoxicated offenders will face up to 93 days in jail, a $500 fine, community service, six driver’s license points, and 180 days without a license.
But if a driver has a BAC of 0.17 percent or higher, the consequences of the offense jump significantly. Under Michigan’s “super drunk” law, both fines and jail sentences nearly double.
Rogers said that the dean’s office works with authorities on a case by case basis because the school and surrounding community is so small.
“I worked with Michigan State, and there, you’re at the whim of the authorities,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt students, and each case is different.
At the same time Rogers and the rest of the college administration want the students to be safe.
“When you mix alcohol with a vehicle,” he said, “you can get devastating effects.”
Typically, the college puts first-time offenders on social or disciplinary probation, which typically will include a fine, community service, alcohol education, counseling, and some amount of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Petersen said.
Rogers encouraged students to call security at (517) 607‑2535 or his personal cell at (517) 398‑1522 for a ride rather than drinking and driving.
“Safety is our first concern,” he said. “It is my prayer that our students would take the responsible approach and take care of one another at all cost.”