A Facebook app could help college-age students find sober drivers ahead of time and prevent drunk driving accidents.
The Person Appointed to Stay Sober (P.A.S.S.) app launched on three university campuses this week and is part of a year-long pilot program through the Texas Department of Transportation, which created the app. The department chose the University of North Texas, Midwestern State University and the University of Texas at Brownsville to pilot the app because it wanted a good sample of different sized institutions in various parts of the state.
In Texas, drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 cause the most alcohol-related crashes compared to other age groups. Last year, they were involved in over 7,000 motor vehicle crashes, according to department reports. And their actions had major consequences, with more than 2,000 serious injuries and 231 fatalities.
"Drinking and driving continues to be a serious problem here in Texas," said Becky Ozuna, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation. "We just continue to see injuries, fatalities and jail time. And the reality is that these are all entirely preventable."
Over the last few years, the department conducted a P.A.S.S. public relations campaign through public service announcements, fliers and media outreach. But now, it's going social and working with universities to reach more young adults in this age bracket.
"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 explained. "They're already using Facebook to plan parties and events."
The app integrates with Facebook events and allows students to search for friends who agree to be sober drivers for an event. They can also offer to be sober drivers for other people and pledge payment amounts if they choose. The department emphasizes the term "sober driver" because "designated driver" has come to mean the person who is the least drunk.
While the app is being promoted and piloted at these universities, anyone from any state can use it. You won't find it in the app store, but you can access it on the P.A.S.S. mobile-friendly website, which uses Facebook authorization to work.
Ultimately, the Texas Department of Transportation hopes this app will make roads safer for residents and create a culture among young adults of planning ahead when it comes to drinking.
While the University of North Texas hasn't heard of any students involved in these crashes, it continues to look for ways to educate students about alcohol consumption.
"Do I think that there's an epidemic of drinking and driving?" asked Maureen McGuinness, dean of students and assistant vice president for Student Affairs. "No, I'm not seeing that in regards to our population. But I don't think it hurts anybody to educate as much as we possibly can on making better choices when it comes to any alcohol."
The university already requires students to take an online course called AlcoholEDU if they are freshmen, under the age of 21, transfer students or involved in Greek life. That Greek life requirement is new this year after the university saw a spike in self-reported drinking at fraternity and sorority houses in the 2012 AlcoholEDU survey.
While the survey showed that University of North Texas students scored lower than the national average in five areas, they did score higher on two. Those two included drinking at Greek life events and catching rides from drunk drivers.
This year, the University of North Texas will evaluate whether it meets students' needs and how the campaign efforts are going.
"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," McGuinness said. "I definitely think it's a step in the right direction."
Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.