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Realistic approach to a real problem

We realize that some college students may have difficulty adopting the “just say no” strategy when it comes to turning down alcohol, especially when their friends are having a good time and they want to join the fun.

Good intentions have a way of falling by the wayside at such times.

That’s why we were interested to learn about a program called PASS — which stands for “the person appointed to stay sober” — that’s available at the University of North Texas this semester.

UNT students who go out with friends can get free soft drinks and food if they show certain businesses they are willing to be the PASS or appointed sober person for the night.

The pilot program by the Texas Department of Transportation allows UNT students to download and use an exclusive Facebook application to “crowdsource” their friends to find a sober driver for the night and avoid dangerous behavior.

The program is being promoted on campus by the UNT Substance Abuse Resource Center (SARC) and supported by more than a dozen local businesses.

TxDOT marketing officials visited UNT about a year ago to try to raise awareness of the first version of the program, for weekends or holidays, said Robert Ashford of SARC. For this academic year, UNT will be one of three schools in the state to test the application to see how it works, said Val Lopez, public information officer with the Fort Worth district of TxDOT.

“What we’re doing now is working with universities to help launch the app, and working with them to integrate the app into their campus culture through various campus organizations and activities,” he said. “[The schools] will help us evaluate the effectiveness of the app in different environments.”

SARC has taken ownership of marketing the app, providing wristbands and interacting with students on campus. The two biggest pushes that they make to try to get students to download the app are that it’s on Facebook and it’s free, Ashford said.

Additionally, all of the information exchanged on the app is secure, and UNT and TxDOT are free of all liability regarding the app’s usage, officials said.

The application crowdsources a user’s friends in Denton, asking them if they would be willing to be a sober driver on a particular night, Ashford said. Sober students can volunteer as a PASS and can request their friends pay them for a seat in the car, adding an incentive for sobriety. The extra incentive comes from local businesses that learned about the program through the marketing promotions and decided to offer extra incentives of their own.

For UNT, the main aim of the program is to change the culture of drinking on campus, Ashford said. Making it common that someone should stay sober all night will help save lives, he said.

“It’s all about harm reduction,” he said. “We know they are going to go out. We know they are going to drink — it’s part of the college life, college atmosphere and the scene. We just want them to do it smartly.”

There are many parents who might argue with those sentiments, but that would waste valuable time — and there’s no time to waste when it comes to this issue.

The sad fact is that many innocent people are harmed by intoxicated drivers — students who don’t drink at all could find themselves in harm’s way.

This pilot program encourages students to choose an alternative to drinking and driving and allows them to act like the adults they are by planning ahead to avoid potential problems.

It’s a realistic approach to a real problem, and we encourage students to sign up.