Drinking and driving - Why risk it?

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AFB, N.C. -- Drinking and driving. Another 45 days. One of the first visible signs we see as we enter the base is the drinking and driving board. I've been assigned to Seymour Johnson since March 2005 and the lowest I have seen the board is six days. From October 2005 through July 2006 there have been 28 DUIs, and by the time this article is published there will have been more.

I know the message about the consequences of drinking and driving is getting out. I hear it at FTAC and ALS briefings, commander's calls, newcomer orientations and various other brief-ings around base. People know there will be consequences regardless if they are caught on or off base, so why do people continue to risk their career, their life or the life of someone else? The most common excuses I have heard are that people just didn't think they were impaired or they thought they would be okay driving because they lived nearby.

North Carolina has been less strict on drunken driving than other states, but that is about to change. The state legislature gave final approval recently to changes in the state's DWI laws. The most drastic change would be that prosecutors and judges in the state would have to treat drunken driving charges the same way. It would mean that people who blow .08 or higher in a Breathalyzer test would more consistently be found guilty of DWI. Other provisions are that causing a serious injury or death while driving impaired would now be a felony, and prosecutors will have to write down why a DUI charge was reduced or dismissed.

According to the N.C. Department of Transportation's Web site, a person's first conviction results in a mandatory driver license revocation for one year, a fine of $100-2,000, 24 hours to 24 months imprisonment, or any combination of these; a second conviction results in a driver license revocation for a period of four years if convicted within three years of the first offense, a fine of $1,000-2,000 and seven days to 24 months imprisonment. Punishment increases with each subsequent conviction, and by the third one, you lose your license permanently.

According to the base legal office, the cost to regain your driver's license is about $400, and hiring an attorney ranges from $750-2,000. The law firm of Kurtz and Blum, a Raleigh based firm that specializes in DWI cases, estimates that insurance premiums can increase 25-400 percent.

Commanders also have a wide range of tools to use in these situations. A letter of admonishment, counseling or reprimand may be issued, an unfavorable information file may be established or an individual may be placed on a control roster. The control roster limits assignments, cancels formal training, and could affect promotions and reenlistments.

One of the programs being used to provide an alternative is Airmen Against Drunk Driving, 722-3333. This program, created at Seymour Johnson in 1999, has resulted in more than 8,100 rides since its creation. So far in 2006, more than 430 volunteers have given more than 1,700 rides. The volunteers for this program work from 10:30 pm to 3:30 am every Friday and Saturday night.

But there's more that can be done in the name of prevention. I think part of the solution involves getting acquainted with the personal life of our fellow Airmen.
When was the last time you as a supervisor went on a dorm or base housing inspection with your first sergeant or just stopped by your Airman's dorm room or house to see how they live? When you did a performance feedback, did you take the time to ask questions or just rush through it? When you are out drinking with friends and notice that one of them has had more than enough to drink, instead of asking them if they are okay to drive, call AADD. Give them a ride home.

Do something, just don't let them get behind the wheel.

Finally, if you're the one that's been drinking, I want you to ask yourself a few questions before you get behind the wheel. First, who do you care about in your life? Second, what would your reaction be to hearing that your loved one was killed, injured or maimed because of an alcohol related incident? Third, are you now willing to make that choice to be the person responsible for that?

Drinking and driving is not an accident, it's a choice.