Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A simple phone call helps W&M students Steer Clear of drunken driving

Throughout parts of William & Mary and downtown Williamsburg, green signs with aggressive, black font catch the eyes of passersby.

The signs are in the bathrooms of bars on Scotland Street and on paper towel dispensers, carrying both a proper name and a message: “Steer Clear.”

Meaning, steer clear of drunken driving.

For about a decade, William & Mary students have operated Steer Clear, a safe ride program that sends two 10-person vans around campus and Williamsburg on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

“All of us are really passionate against drunk driving,” said Mathew Ciurash, a rising senior on the university’s pre-med track and the director of Steer Clear. “Uber now has drastically reduced it, but this is also free — and it fits 10 people at a time.”

The program is funded and supported by William & Mary, and employs about 50 students, Ciurash said.

Ciurash has been the director of Steer Clear for about two-and-a-half years, and in that time, he’s seen the safe ride program grow.

The program expanded its service last semester so there are two vans running on Thursday nights instead of just one. The change was made to meet increased demand, Ciurash said.

A Steer Clear sign is posted on a paper towel dispenser in Green Leafe Cafe on Scotland Street. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
A Steer Clear sign is posted on a paper towel dispenser in Green Leafe Cafe on Scotland Street. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

How it works

Steer Clear vans have cellphones in the vehicle to field requests for rides from college students.

There is one phone number for riders looking to go to on-campus destinations, and another for off-campus addresses.

The vans run from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Thursdays and from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The vans will also run for some special events.

The vans operate within a close radius of William & Mary, and can decline rides if the rider is requesting a ride to a location outside of the predetermined area.

Steer Clear’s 50 employees are trained to drive the 10-person vans, which are owned by William & Mary. They also receive training to handle scenarios involving drunken, dangerous or rude students, Ciurash said.

Generally, however, the rides are smooth.

“It’s also a really relaxing and awesome job,” Ciurash said. “You feel good about it.”

Prevention

The service also helps students get a ride if they don’t feel safe walking alone.

“We’re making sure they are getting home safe, not going on a three-mile walk back to their apartment,” Ciurash said. “I feel like that’s where things can happen.”

Ciurash said during his tenure he hasn’t seen any extreme situations where a person was assaulted or too drunk and in need of medical help.

To Ciurash, the vans help quash the potential for those situations.

“The heart of gold here is the prevention,” he said. “The stories you don’t hear about — that don’t happen — are the ones steer clear is helping prevent,” he said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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