UNT tests social media app to promote sober driving

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Editor’s note: This story has been modified from its original version in print and online. Robert Ashford, who works at the University of North Texas Substance Abuse Resource Center, said “designated driver” has come to mean the person who is the least drunk. The statement was attributed incorrectly Tuesday in an article about a new Facebook application.

A new Facebook application being tested at the University of North Texas aims to make sure that members of the “Mean Green” college community avoid getting outfitted with an orange jail jumpsuit.

The app — known as Person Appointed to Stay Sober, or PASS — helps students use Facebook to arrange for a sober driver from among their friends to take them home safely after a night of drinking.

The idea is to help students avoid getting arrested for drunken driving by using social media. The app could come in handy during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, as police in cities across North Texas are planning to put extra officers on the streets in search of inebriated drivers.

“Everyone is using social media to communicate these days. I think just creating the awareness that the app is out there will help,” said Kelsey Pershing, a senior majoring in integrated studies at UNT who stopped by the PASS app’s booth on the edge of campus Monday.

The app, available at www.thepassapp.com, also allows those who wish to be a designated driver to offer a ride to others. It also allows designated drivers to request donations from riders to offset the cost of gas.

UNT part of pilot project

Users visit the website and log on with their Facebook account. The app then becomes essentially an add-on to the event-planning feature that it already in Facebook’s software. Once the app is in place, the user not only can plan an event using Facebook, but can also ask for a ride from among friends, or volunteer to give a ride to others.

“Facebook is already used for this. Are we going to a comedy club tonight? Are we going to a coffee house?” said Robert Ashford, a junior studying social work at UNT who has tried the app. “We’re just adding another element to a part of Facebook that’s already used.”

Ashford said the app gives users the added security of knowing they can get a ride home from someone they know, rather than a stranger.

UNT is one of three schools chosen to test the app during the 2013-14 school year, along with Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

On Monday, UNT student volunteers put up an information table near the corner of Hickory and Fry streets and reached out to passers-by to encourage them to try the app.

Mark Cross, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said UNT was chosen because of its diverse student population. The department also looked at how many students were using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

“This is a pilot project for now. Universities have different levels of alcohol awareness and education,” Cross said.

Alcohol awareness important

UNT spokeswoman Leslie Wimmer said the campus has an alcohol awareness education class that students must take before they can register for classes.

Ashford, who works at the UNT Substance Abuse Resource Center, said “designated driver” has come to mean the person who is the least drunk.

But the PASS program seeks to identify drivers who are willing to commit in advance that they think will not drink any alcohol the night of the event.

Alcohol use among drivers ages 18 to 24 was a factor in 7,096 crashes in Texas last year, according to the Transportation Department. Of those, 231 crashes were fatal.

Forty percent of drivers who drank alcohol felt that it would be safe to get behind the wheel after three or more drinks within a two-year period, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But depending upon factors such as age and weight, as little as one drink can have at least some impact upon a person’s ability to drive.

In Texas, a driver is considered legally drunk with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. However, advocates of the PASS app noted that drivers can be arrested with levels lower than that if an officer believes the driver is under the influence of alcohol.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Campbell contributed to this report.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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