Drunk driving risks freedom, finances, future

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katherine Windish
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
More than one million drivers are arrested every year for driving while intoxicated and face serious legal consequences. For a military member, the repercussions of poor decision making don't stop there.

Driving under the influence on a military installation seriously damages a servicemember's military career. More than 650 Article 15s for drunken driving were issued last year Air Force-wide from January 2009 to January 2010. Forfeiture of pay, confinement, extra duty, restriction, revocation of base driving privileges and, in cases of multiple offenders, relief of duty are punishments some of those offenders face.

"While each servicemember is punished differently based on their age, rank, situation, mission, commander and whether or not they have had any sort of prior counseling, a servicemember will not escape justice if caught drinking and driving," said Master Sgt. Wesley Walker, military justice paralegal. "The Air Force has a zero tolerance policy and it is taken very seriously."

In addition to these consequences, the commander of a servicemember convicted of a DUI on base has the option of reporting the incident to civilian law enforcement, making them answerable to civilian laws and consequences in addition to the military's punishment. In D.C., first time offenders are fined $300 - $1,000, six month driving privilege revocation and up to 90 days in jail. Second time offenders are fined $1,000 - $5,000, one1 year driving privilege revocation and up to one year in jail. Third time offenders are fined $2,000 - $10,000, two year driving privilege revocation and up to one year in jail.

These punishments are applied if a driver violates any of D.C.'s drunken driving laws. It is illegal to drive in D.C. with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or above. The .08 percent limit is the standard measurement used by all states. Washington D.C., as well as the Air Force, has a zero alcohol tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21. There is also an implied consent law in D.C. that any person operating a motor vehicle agrees to provide chemical tests of their blood, urine or breath to determine blood alcohol concentration. If a driver refuses a DUI test, their driver's license will be suspended for up to one year on the first refusal. These laws are supplemented by Air Force Instructions 34-219 and 44-121.

These laws are in place for a reason: on average, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 45 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most recent statistics from NHTSA state that in 2008, more than 11,770 deaths involved a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. This total is 31.6 percent of total traffic deaths for the year. Not only does a drunk driver put his own life and career at risk, but innocent bystanders' lives as well.

More than 70 percent of all DUI offenders have alcohol abuse problems and more than 10 percent are alcohol dependent, according to Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program officials. One-third of all DUI arrests are drivers with prior offenses, according to the NHTSA. Clearly, part of the solution to preventing drunken driving is to treat substance abuse.

The Air Force provides education and treatment for all drunken driving offenders. AFI 44-121 states "The Air Force policy recognizes that alcohol abuse negatively affects public behavior, duty performance, and/or physical or mental health. The Air Force provides comprehensive clinical assistance to eligible beneficiaries..."

The Air Force ADAPT program provides that treatment. After an arrest, the offender is commander-recommended for ADAPT, where the person's habits and the incident are evaluated to establish whether or not there is an abuse problem. If there is, further appointments are scheduled for treatment. If there is not an abuse problem, the offender is taught methods to help them make better future decisions.

"People assume that going to ADAPT automatically means you have an alcohol problem," said Tech. Sgt. Susan Hammond, non-commissioned-officer in charge of ADAPT. "We are here to evaluate and help you. If you have an alcohol problem, we treat it. If you don't, at the very minimum we educate you."

According to Sergeant Hammond, people are most surprised by what constitutes an actual drink and how much it takes for a person's body to reach .08 percent blood alcohol concentration. A standard drink is equal to a 10 -12 ounce beer; a five-ounce glass of wine; or one shot or mixed drink. Each standard drink contains .5 ounce of pure ethyl alcohol.

"Most people don't realize that a drink like a Long Island Iced Tea actually constitutes five standard drinks because there are five shots in it," said Sergeant Hammond. "People drink them and don't realize that with each glass they are drinking five alcoholic drinks. They don't realize their BAC is skyrocketing."

In each evaluation, Sergeant Hammond distributes a chart cmoparing body weight to number of drinks, showing what it takes to surpass .08 percent BAC.

"It takes an average-sized female of 120 pounds less than three drinks to reach their highest legal BAC," she said. "Someone with a high tolerance will feel fine after less than three drinks and think they're okay to drive. They are not."

A person with a BAC of .06 to .1 percent will have impaired reflexes and reasoning, depth perception, distance acuity, peripheral vision and glare recovery, according to ADAPT officials. All are serious factors in driving ability.

Whether a driver believes they feel fine or not, getting behind the wheel of a car with a .08 BAC is putting lives and careers at risk.

For more information about DUI laws, military and legal consequences, statistics, and treatment, visit www.thatguy.com.