This Student Says She Learned From “Real Life.” How She Helps Others Avoid Tragedy.

IMG_71343068306340~2 College and beer. In popular and news media, the two are practically synonymous. Seems every week, another headline calls attention to student substance abuse or exposes an alcohol-related hazing tragedy. Although we hear plenty about the college kids who endanger themselves, we rarely hear about the peers who protect them. Those students are out there and they deserve your attention. Teresa Pugliese, a twenty-five year old graduate student at University of Central Florida (UCF), is a good example. In August of 2013, she founded the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at UCF, a program that seeks to humanize drug users and promotes the view of drug use as a health issue rather than a crime by working to create educational opportunities and policy changes on college campuses. Currently, the group is working to get UCF to end their “Zero Tolerance” policy and adopt Florida’s 911 Good Samaritan Act — which allows someone to report an overdose without fear of legal repercussions. For Teresa, the policy is personal. Just two years ago, her brother died from accidental overdoes and a friend was with him the entire time. Teresa believes the episode might have ended differently if that friend felt he had the option to call for help. Taking a stance on her school’s drug policy isn’t the only way Teresa’s making a difference. Her lesser known (but equally impactful) role is as a volunteer designated driver. She doesn’t work for a campus program — those services charge students. It’s more of a lifestyle.  Teresa makes it clear to friends and family that no matter where she is or what she’s doing, they can always call her for a safe ride home. She’ll even make sure nothing happens to their car. Her vigilance isn’t limited to a select inner-circle. On several occasions, Teresa has intersected an intoxicated party-goer, who was about to get behind the wheel, and driven them to safety. Once again, the decision is personal: Teresa never forgot the near tragedy that almost took her father. To this young safety advocate, drunk driving  “is one of the most preventable forms of accidental pain.” Traffic Safety Store (TSS): The decision to stay sober isn’t what we’re taught to expect from a college student. Did you always avoid drinking? Teresa Pugliese (TP): When I first went to college, I went to North Florida. I got my little partying phase out of the way there, but I didn’t do very well in class. I moved back home because I lost my Bright Futures Scholarship. I knew I had to focus. By age 21, I was done with drinking and just wanted to focus on school. TSS: Did you always seek to provide this kind of service or is Designated Driving a role you’ve grown into? TP: When I was very young my dad got into an accident drinking and driving – he fell asleep at the wheel. In my eyes, as a very little girl, I saw my dad almost die so I grew up thinking “Ok, no drinking and driving.” But I got more serious about it when I stopped drinking. I got more interested in helping people rather than trying to just stay away from drinking and driving. TSS: How far out of your way are you willing to go to help someone avoid drunk driving?   TP: A friend of mine was visiting Orlando and she lives in Deltona which is 30 minutes away. She was supposed to go home but ended up drinking at a party. She knew I live in Orlando so she called me. I took her home and we went and got her car the next morning. If I do end up attending the party, I don’t drink. I’d like to think I have just as much fun. I knew this girl from work, she was at a Halloween party and she was puking. Immediately I was like, “Ok, I’m driving you home.” For some reason she thought she could still drive home. That was a case where I didn’t know the person very well at all. The next morning I drove her back to her car. There have been a couple of times where I really did feel like I wanted to drive someone home and they would not let me – it weighs on you. TSS: Do you ever get interrupted from studying or something important because someone needs a ride? TP: Yeah, but I am happy about it. It makes me happy to know they actually listen. Drinking obviously impairs your judgment. A lot of people go to a party thinking “I just won’t drink” then they end up drinking and they think “Oh, I’m fine.” To actually admit that you’re too drunk to drive, even if you’ve only had one or two drinks. If you have someone willing to drive you, why take the risk? TSS: What do you say to people?   TP: I talk to them like they’re not drunk. Anyone who’s drunk, if you ask them if they’re drunk they’ll say they’re not. They’ll try to act like they’re not. I don’t want to fight with anyone. You present it in a way that makes sense, “Hey, you have a way home. You’re not going to get arrested. You’re not going to crash. Nothing is going to happen to your car – you’ll have it in the morning.” It appeals to them. TSS: When you look around campus, do you see a problem with drinking and driving? Do you see a problem with students drinking too much or not drinking responsibly? TP: I don’t want to single my school out. But there’s a disconnect, especially with young people because they think they’re invincible. TSS: Anything you’d  like to see at your school to address drinking and driving? TP: Showing realistic videos can really affect people. The alcohol education that we have at my school isn’t really up to par. A couple modules so you breeze through it and don’t really read it. It would be great to have a speaker who survived [a drunk driving tragedy]. It’s touching. It’s real.

Author: Dana Henry

Dana Henry is a Content Strategist for Traffic Safety Store. After years working as a reporter and editor for print and online publications, Dana has developed her focus on emerging technology and innovation. She resides in Philadelphia and is an avid cyclist.

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