Underage DUIs are on the rise, especially around the University of Central Florida.

They're not old enough to legally buy $1 vodka shots, but young adults walk out of bars near the University of Central Florida every night and get behind the wheel.

Officers who patrol the area say they're seeing an alarming spike in the number of underage motorists caught driving under the influence.

And the numbers bear them out.

Records from the Orange County Sheriff's Office DUI Center show 209 underage drivers were charged with DUI in Orange County in 2013 — a 48 percent increase from 2012.


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In sharp contrast, the overall DUI arrest rate rose only 5.8 percent in Orange County from 2012 to 2013. (The statistics in this article do not include several small police agencies in Orange County.)

Of the total underage DUI arrests last year, 91 were within 2 miles of the University of Central Florida — an area bustling with student housing, new restaurants and popular college bars. That's more than double the number of arrests in 2012.

This surge has prompted officers to increase nightly patrols along Alafaya Trail, University Boulevard and surrounding streets.

"Statistically, the area is getting bigger," Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Castleberry said. "The college is getting bigger. We're seeing [more] bars open up over the last year or two."

With more than 48,000 students at its main campus — thousands more attend satellite campuses — UCF has become the nation's second-largest university behind Arizona State. And that has created a robust market for new nightlife options.

UCF police Chief Richard Beary said the spike in underage DUI arrests doesn't surprise him simply because the increase in bars and student housing in east Orange County creates more opportunity for underage drinking.

"East Central Florida is no longer a small area," Beary said. "It's become very, very populated. So I'm really not surprised by the numbers."

Yolanda Larson, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Central Florida, said the increasing number of underage DUI arrests can be good and bad.

"To me, if those arrests are happening, and there's a lot of law enforcement now that's designated to those areas, I think that's a good thing, and the numbers may keep going up," Larson said.

But it also shows that too many young adults are making bad decisions every night, she said.

"I know that it's an ongoing problem. One death is too many. One crash is too many. One arrest is too many," Larson said. "It's not going to go away, but we have to stay on top of it."

What cops see

The serious weekend drinking begins around 10 p.m. every Thursday along Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard, some authorities say.

But for Orange County Deputy Sheriff Sean Dobbins, the DUI problem near UCF is weeklong, attracting students from other nearby colleges and universities, even high-school students.

He said he's pulled over some offenders who got into the bar using a fake identification or the ID of a friend or sibling who bears a resemblance.

"The bars are checking [IDs], but they have a line of 40 people out the door. So they're like 'Oh, it looks real,'" Dobbins said.