This paper reports the finding from a study that examined the
relationship between social bond variables and drunk driving in a sample
of university students. A questionnaire containing indicators
representing social bond variables, as well as a measure of drunk
driving was administered to a sample of 1459 college students. The
results of this study provide mixed support for social bond theory. On
the one hand, commitment to conventional activities and acceptance of
conventional beliefs were negatively related to drunk driving. On the
other hand, neither the involvement component nor the attachment
component were related to drinking and driving in the manner predicted
by social bond theory.
The consumption of alcohol by college students has received a
tremendous amount of scrutiny in recent years. Binge drinking, or heavy
episodic drinking, is a prevalent behavior that has been linked to a
variety of problematic consequences for student drinkers. These include
hangovers, blackouts, missing class, doing something they regret later,
getting involved in physical fights and other arguments, and having
trouble with the police (Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, &
Castillo, 1995; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & H. Lee, 2000). Binge drinking
is also associated with risky sexual behaviors, thus putting students at
risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV
(Meilman, 1993; Smith & Brown, 1998). Recent research has also
revealed that students who drink frequently have higher odds of becoming
the victim of assault (Mustaine & Tewskbury, 2000). The tragic
alcohol-related deaths of students at several schools illustrate the
potentially fatal consequences of this activity. However, the negative
consequences of this behavior are not limited to drinkers. Intoxicated
students also have an adverse impact on the campus and surrounding
community. Examples of these so-called "secondary binge
effects" include being verbally insulted or abused, being
physically assaulted, having one's property damaged, experiencing
unwelcome sexual advances, and having sleep or studying disturbed
because of intoxicated students (Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, et al.
1994). Community residents who live near college campuses often report a
lower quality of life resulting from the behavior of student drinkers
(e.g., noise disturbances, disorderly conduct, litter, vandalism)
(Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, et al., 2002).
Drunk driving is a type of alcohol-related behavior that endangers
drinkers as well as other members of the campus and general community.
University students appear to be particularly susceptible to driving
while intoxicated (Wechsler, Lee, Nelson, & H. Lee, 2003). In a
recent study, Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kopstein, and Wechsler (2002)
estimated that at least two million students drove while intoxicated
during the previous year. The fatal consequences of this behavior are
well documented. The leading cause of death for young people is
automobile accidents, many of which are alcohol-related (McCormick &
Ureda, 1995). In fact, the most common cause of death in young adults
(aged 17-24) is alcohol-related accidents (Ham & Hope, 2003).
According to one estimate, about 1100 college students died in
alcohol-related crashes in 1998 (Wechsler et al., 2003)
Although recent studies (e.g., Billingham, Wilson, & Gross,
1999; Grenier, 1993; Harford, Wechsler, & Muthen, 2002; McCormick
& Ureda, 1995) have sought to identify demographic factors
associated with drinking and driving by college students, only a few
studies have examined other factors associated with this behavior. For
example, Clapp, Shillington, Lange, and Voas (2003) investigated the
relationship between substance use patterns (e.g., binge drinking,
marijuana use) and drunk driving by university students. Also, Hingson,
Heeren, Zakocs, Winter, and Wechsler (2003) examined the relationship
between age at first intoxication and students driving while
intoxicated. However, there have been relatively few attempts to apply
the various sociological perspectives, particularly theories of deviant
behavior, to this phenomenon. This is a serious oversight since
sociological theories of deviance typically have strong explanatory
value (Durkin, Wolfe, & Clark, 1999). Understanding the factors that
cause the alcohol-related problems of college students can inform
intervention and prevention efforts (Ham & Hope, 2003). A greater
understanding of drunk driving is also of significant importance to the
nation's public health agenda (O'Malley & Johnston, 1999).
The purpose of this paper is to apply one of the most popular
sociological explanations of deviance, social bond theory, to drinking
and driving by university students.
According to Travis Hirschi (1969, p.82), the sociologist who
formally introduced social bond theory, "we are moral beings to the
extent we are social beings." Social bond theory assumes that the
motivation for deviant behavior is present in everyone, and concerns
itself with the factors that keep an individual from engaging in
deviance. The social bond essentially "refers to the connection
between the individual and society" (Shoemaker, 2005, p.176). When
these bonds are weak or lacking, the individual has less at stake and is
at higher risk for committing deviant acts (Faupel, Horowitz, &
Weaver, 2004). Social bond theory was originally presented as an
explanation of juvenile delinquency and is one of the leading social
psychological perspectives on deviant behavior (Massey & Krohn,
1986), and is arguably the most frequently tested theory of deviance
(Akers, 2000). This theory has received modest empirical support, and
its explanatory value is typically described as good or moderate
(Gardner & Shoemaker, 1989). It has been applied to a wide variety
of deviant behaviors including academic cheating by university students,
alcohol use, juvenile delinquency, and marijuana use (Durkin, S. Wolfe,
& Lewis, 2006)
There are four elements of the social bond. The first is
attachment. This refers to the ties that an individual has to
significant others such as family members; particularly parents (Leonard
& Decker, 1994). For college students, the relationship with
one's parents would be an example of attachment. The second
component of the social bond, commitment, refers to the aggregate
investment of time, energy, and resources in conventional activities
such as getting an education or a holding a job. These investments
represent stakes in conformity (Akers, 2000). Indicators of commitment
for university students include religiosity, church attendance,
commitment to higher education, and grade point average. The third
element of the social bond is involvement. This consists of the amount
of time a person spends engaging in conventional activities such as
doing schoolwork, participating in extracurricular activities such as
clubs or athletics, and working at a parttime job. The final component
of the social bond is belief. This is the acceptance of a conventional
value system. The belief component includes a general acceptance of the
rules of society as being morally valid and binding, as well as respect
for authority and the legal system.
While we are not aware of any studies that have specifically
applied social bond theory to drinking and driving among college
students, a review of the relevant literature seems to suggest that it
may be useful in explaining this behavior. First, two previous studies
(Durkin et al., 1999; 2006) have explored the relationship between binge
drinking and the social bond in university students. These results
suggest that both the commitment and belief components of social bond
theory are negatively related to binge drinking. Binge drinking is a
risky type of alcohol-related behavior that may be somewhat analogous to
drunk driving. Therefore, there may be a similar relationship between
the social bond and drunk driving. Second, Billingham et al. (1999)
found higher rates of drinking and driving among students from divorced
families. Social bond theory would posit that these students would have
a lower-level of attachment to parents due to divorce. Finally, using
data collected from high school seniors O'Malley and Johnston
(1999) found a negative relationship between both religious commitment
and grade point average (two indicators of the commitment component of
the social bond) and drunk driving. Therefore, the same relationship
might be expected for university students.
Several hypotheses were derived from social bond theory about the
nature of drunk driving among college students. First, there should be
an inverse relationship between attachment and drunk driving. Second,
the likelihood of drinking and driving will increase as a student's
commitments decrease. Third, involvement in conventional activities will
decrease the likelihood of drunk driving. Finally, there will be a
negative relationship between acceptance of conventional beliefs and
The sample was comprised of 1459 undergraduate students enrolled at
four institutions of higher education. Two of these schools were in the
Midwest, one in the Mid-Atlantic region and one in the South. The
majority of participants (55.7%) were women. The mean age of these
students was 19.9 years. In terms of race, 82.9% were White, 10.6% were
African-American, and the remaining 6.5% of students were from other
racial groups. About half (50.7%) of the students reported that they
resided on campus, while 18.6% resided in off-campus student housing,
and the remaining 30.7% of the sample rived with family members. Eleven
percent of these students reported that they were members of either a
fraternity or a sorority.
The instrument included a variety of indicators consistent with the
various components of social bond theory. Several of the items were
adopted from previous studies (Durkin et al., 1999; Leonard &
Decker, 1994). There were two measures of the attachment component of
the social bond. First, there was a six-item parental attachment scale
([alpha] = .83) consisting of items such as, "I have a lot of
respect for my parents" and "My parents and I can talk about
future plans." Second, students were asked whether or not they
lived with both parents. There were three measures of the commitment
component of bond theory. First, there was a four-item religious
commitment scale ([alpha] = .94) made up of items such as "Regular
church attendance is important to me" and "Prayer is an
important part of my daily life." Second, there was a three-item
commitment to higher education scale ([alpha] = .77), which included
items such as "I try hard in school" and "Regular class
attendance is important to me." Lastly, respondents were asked to
indicate their grade point average. Three items that tapped the
commitment component of the social bond were included on the
questionnaire. Respondents were asked to indicate how many hours a week
they spend working, studying, and participating in extracurricular
activities respectively. There were two measures of the belief component
of social bond theory. First, there was a four-item acceptance of
conventional beliefs scale ([alpha] = .58), including items like
"To get ahead you have to do some things which aren't
right" and "It is okay to break the rules if you can get away
with it." Second, a two-item respect for authority scale ([alpha] =
.80) involved asking respondents about their respect for the local
police and campus police. The dependent variable was measured by asking
students to indicate whether or not they had drove a vehicle after
having too much to drink in the past 12 months.
The College Student Lifestyle Inventory (CSLI) was administered to
the sample of undergraduate students from courses in the social and
behavioral sciences. In an attempt to improve the generalizability of
these data and findings, the majority of the classes that were surveyed
were ones that can be taken by all students to fulfill a general
elective requirement. Therefore, students in those classes should be
somewhat representative of the student body. Before the survey was
administered, students were given verbal instructions regarding the
purpose of this study, as well as the voluntary nature of their
participation. They were also assured that all of their responses were
anonymous. A cover letter that was attached to each of the
questionnaires repeated this information. After they had finished the
questionnaire, these students placed them in a sealed box that was
located on a desk in the front of the classroom.
Overall, 25.8% reported driving after having too much to drink. The
breakdown of drinking and driving by subgroup based on social bond
variables is shown in Table 1. One of the relationships based on the
attachment component was statistically significant. Those students
living with family members were more likely than other students to
report driving after having too much to drink (30.6% vs. 23.7%).
All three of the variables based on the commitment component were
significantly related to drunk driving. First, students with a GPA of
2.0 or lower are more likely to drive after drinking than are other
students. Second, there is a negative relationship between drunk driving
and religious commitment. Less than 20% of students with a high level of
religious commitment reported engaging in this behavior, compared to
more than 30% of the other students. Third, students with a high degree
of commitment to higher education are less likely than other respondents
to report operating a vehicle after having too much to drink (22.5% vs.
Each of the three measures of involvement was related to drunk
driving. First, the hours a student spends studying is negatively
related to drinking and driving. For instance, students who spend five
hours or less studying were nearly three times more likely than students
studying 16 hours or more to report driving after having too much to
drink. Second, the hours spent working at a job was positively related
to drunk driving. The highest level of this behavior (37.3%) was
reported by those students who work 16 or more hours a week. Finally,
the relationship between participation in extracurricular activities and
drunk driving was somewhat more complicated. Students with a modest (110
hours a week) level of participation reported a significantly lower
level of driving after drinking than either students who did not
participate in any extracurricular activities, or students with a very
high degree (11 hours or more) of participation.
Both of the variables which reflected the belief component of
social bond theory were significantly related to drunk driving. First,
respect for authority was inversely related to drinking and driving.
Students with a higher level of respect for authority were less likely
than their peers to drive drunk (21.9% vs. 32.3%). Second, acceptance of
conventional beliefs was negatively associated with driving after having
too much to drink. Students with the lowest levels of acceptance of
conventional beliefs were over two times more likely to engage in this
behavior than students with a high level of conventional beliefs.
The results of this study strongly support two of the four
hypotheses derived from social bond theory. As predicted, there was a
negative relationship between commitment to conventional activities and
drunk driving. First, students with higher GPAs were less likely than
other students to report drinking and driving. This should not be
surprising since O'Malley and Johnston (1999) reported a similar
finding from their research on drunk driving by high school students.
Moreover, Durkin et al. (1999) found that GPA was negatively related to
binge drinking in a study of college students. Second, students with a
high level of religious commitment reported lower level of drinking and
driving. This is consistent with a previous study of this behavior in
high school students (O'Malley & Johnston, 1999), as well as
research on binge drinking by university students (Durkin et al., 1999,
2006; Wechsler et al., 1995). Finally, students with a high level of
commitment to higher education reported significantly lower levels of
drinking and driving.
As hypothesized, there was a negative relationship between the
belief component of the social bond and drinking and driving. Students
who scored low on the acceptance of conventional beliefs scale were more
than two times more likely to report driving after drinking than other
students were. This is consistent with the findings of previous studies
on binge drinking and the social bond in college students (Durkin et al.
1999, 2006). Additionally, students with a high level of respect for
authority were less prone to drive drunk than students with a low level
of respect for authority. This same measure of the belief component of
the social bond has been found to have a negative relationship to binge
drinking in previous research (Durkin et al., 1999).
It was predicted that involvement in conventional activities would
decrease the likelihood of drinking and driving. This particular
hypothesis received mixed support. Clearly there was a negative
relationship between the hours a student spends studying and drunk
driving. Students who reported studying 5 hours a week or less were
almost 3 times more likely to report engaging in this behavior than
students who reported studying 16 hours a week or more. Wechsler et al.
(1995) reported a similar tendency for binge drinking among college
students. Contrary to the hypothesis, students who spend a considerable
amount of time working for pay each week (16 hours or more) were more
likely to drinking and drive than other students. It is possible that
these students may drink with their co-workers and then drive to their
dorm or residence. The relationship between participation in
extracurricular activities and drunk driving was complex. Students with
a moderate level of involvement (1-10 hours a week) were the lowest
group in terms of the rate of drinking and driving. The fact that
students with no participation in these activities had a higher rate is
supportive of social bond theory. However, the fact that students with
the highest level of participation in extracurricular activities (11
hours a week or more) have higher rates of drinking and driving
contradicts the hypothesis. Two of the most time consuming
extracurricular activities (athletics and Greek organizations) have been
linked to binge drinking and alcohol-related problems in a number of
previous studies (Ham & Hope, 2003). This could be a possible
explanation for the disparate findings in the current study.
There was no significant relationship between attachment to parents
and drunk driving. During college, students often move away from their
family of origin (Vik, Cellucci, & Ivers, 2003) and generally
experience an increasing independence from their parents (National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Therefore, it is not
particularly surprising that attachment to parents is not a significant
predictor of this type of deviance among college students. However,
among those students who lived with their parents were actually more
likely than other students to report driving after drinking. This
finding is entirely contradictory to social bond theory. However, in a
study designed to assess the impact of current residence on binge
drinking and related problems, Hardford, Wechsler, and Muthen (2002)
found that although students living with their parents were less likely
to report negative consequences from binge drinking, they were actually
more likely to report drinking and driving. There are two possible
explanations for this. First, students who live with parents may be
subject to strict parental monitoring and controls (e.g., curfew). Thus,
they may drive after drinking to ensure they are home when expected.
Second, these students probably commute to campus and rely on a personal
vehicle for transportation. Since drinking activities are frequently
centered on campus or adjacent areas, they would be more prone to drunk
driving than residential students.
Despite the possible contributions of the current study, it is
important to recognized several limitations of this research. First, the
data for this project were gathered from students enrolled at four
universities using a non-random convenience sample. Therefore, it is not
possible to assess the generalizability of these findings. However, the
purpose of this study was to test an explanation of drinking and
driving, not to make generalizations about socio-demographic variables
in the national population of college students. Second, the study relied
on self-reports. These are often criticized for being susceptible to
misrepresentations. Yet self-reports have been demonstrated to be
reliable and valid measures of substance abuse (Akers, Kroh,
Lanza-Kaduce, & Radosevich, 1979; Wechsler et al., 1994). Lastly,
this research used a cross-sectional design which is unable to address
maturational issues and social processes that transpire over time
(Bennett, Miller, & Woodall, 1998; Weingardt, Baer, Kivalhan,
Roberts, Miller, & Marlatt, 1998).
Before ending this discussion, it is important to consider how
these results can be applied to efforts to deal with the problems of
drinking and driving among college students. Social bond theory
typically advocates the development of common sense policies to keep
students committed to conventional lines of action and involved in
conventional activities (Durkin et al., 1999). The key to education and
prevention programs based on this theory is to control alcohol-related
problems, such as drunk driving, through facilitating bonds to the
college community (Cherry, 1987). The results of this study clearly
suggest that finding ways to foster academic commitment and achievement
will help prevent drunk driving. Additionally, heavy involvement in
study also appears to curb the prevalence of drunk driving. An
especially important implication is that commuter students are an
important target for prevention efforts. Both this undertaking and a
study by Hartford et al. (2002) found higher rates of drinking and
driving among college students who reside with their parents. However,
since commuter students are normally considered to be less integrated to
the campus community (Jacoby, 2000), they may be a difficult group to
reach. Perhaps consideration should be given to providing educational
literature to commuters about drunk driving when they register their
vehicle for campus parking.
Although drinking and driving is clearly a problem among college
students, there have been no previous efforts to apply sociological
theories of deviance to this behavior. This study tested an explanation
of drinking and driving by college students that was derived from social
bond theory. The results indicate that social bond theory receives mixed
support. On the one hand, it appears that both the commitment component
and the belief component are negatively related to drunk driving. In
other words, students who are committed to conformity (as demonstrated
by their academic performance and religious commitment) and adhere to
traditional belief systems are less likely to drink and drive. On the
other hand, neither involvement component nor the attachment component
was related to drinking and driving in the manner predicted by this
theory. It has been argued (Leonard & Decker, 1994; Shoemaker, 2005)
that the exact relationship between the social bond and deviant behavior
is age specific. This means that certain components of the bond may be
more significant in preventing deviance in one age group, but perhaps
not in other age groups. Therefore, it is possible that only commitments
and beliefs are important in inhibiting deviant behavior among
However, the results of this study indicate the usefulness of
sociological theories of deviance in explaining the problem of drinking
and driving among college students. Future investigations of this topic
would surely benefit from using these theories. One promising
possibility would be social learning theory, which is the most
empirically supported sociological explanation of crime, deviance, and
delinquency (Akers, 2000). Moreover, future studies that use a
longitudinal research design would surely be helpful. A longitudinal
study can examine social processes, such as bonding and learning, which
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KEITH F. DURKIN
Ohio Northern University
SCOTT E. WOLFE
University of Louisville
ROSS W. MAY
Western Carolina University
BREAKDOWN OF DRINKING AND DRIVING BY SUBGROUP BASED ON SOCIAL
Drinking and Driving
Measure n Yes No [chi square]
Attachment to Parents
High (4.01-5.00) 1095 25.0% 75.0% 1.64
Low (0.00-4.00) 363 28.4% 71.6%
Live with Family
Yes 447 30.6% 69.4% 7.57 **
No 1012 23.7% 76.3%
Grade Point Average
2.0 and lower 84 35.7% 64.3% 19.17 **
2.1-3.0 766 29.2% 70.8%
3.1 and higher 591 20.0% 80.2%
Low (0.00-2.00) 250 31.2% 68.8% 22.45 **
Medium (2.01-4.00) 539 30.5% 69.5%
High (4.01-5.00) 667 19.8% 80.2%
Commitment to Higher Education
Low (0.00-4.00) 396 34.6% 65.4% 21.94 **
High (4.01-5.00) 1063 22.6% 77.5%
0-5 hours 460 35.4% 64.6% 43.50 **
6-15 hours 767 23.9% 76.1%
16 hours or more 231 13.0% 87.0%
None 501 21.7% 78.3% 57.47 **
1-15 hours 437 17.0% 83.0%
16 hours or more 509 37.3% 62.7%
Hours in Extracurricular
None 471 29.1% 70.9% 10.22 **
1-10 hours 676 21.9% 78.1%
11 hours or more 307 29.4% 70.6%
Respect for Authority
Low (0.00-2.50) 548 32.3% 67.7% 19.34 **
High (2.51-5.00) 911 21.9% 78.1%
Acceptance of Conventional
Low (0.00-2.50) 214 41.1% 58.9% 50.79 **
Medium (2.51-3.75) 676 28.3% 71.7%
High (3.76-5.00) 568 17.1% 82.9%