Why risk it?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Dana C. McCown
  • 55th Maintenance Squadron commander
Labor Day marked the end of the Air Force's 101 Critical Days of Summer for 2009, and I spent that weekend making the streets in Nebraska safer by manning DUI checkpoints with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety in 2008, 67 Nebraskans died as a result of 61 alcohol-related crashes and an estimated 3,000 more were injured in additional crashes. 

Law enforcement officers arrested more than 13,660 Nebraskans for driving while intoxicated, which means DUIs are the reason for one out of every six arrests in our state.

So what potential impact does that have on me, you and our families stationed at Offutt? 

In 2008, one person died every five days and another was injured every three hours in alcohol-related crashes. This makes DUIs the most frequently committed violent crime in Nebraska, with someone being arrested every 30 minutes.

So, why did I spend my long weekend assisting the sheriff's department with performing DUI checks? 

Because deterrence works.

Studies show an 18 - 24 percent drop in deaths and injuries when cities sponsor highly publicized sobriety checkpoints. Lancaster County, for example, pulled over every fourth or fifth car on Highway 6 in a five-hour time span and performed more than 400 vehicle safety checks to include running a search on drivers' licenses, insurance and registration.

All in all, these sobriety checkpoints led to multiple arrests, a vehicle impounded for a person driving on a suspended license and an arrest for DUI. In Sarpy County, the sheriff's department recently finished up their "You Drink and Drive, You Lose" campaign.

Throughout a two-week period, the department arrested 19 drivers for DUI, but more importantly, there were no fatal car crashes or major personal injury crashes reported during this time. Because of this, I believe DUI checkpoints work. They're a deterrence.

So, where do we fit in? In fiscal year 2009 so far, our Air Force has lost 40 great Americans in motor vehicle fatalities, many of them as a result of high blood alcohol content levels, up to .39 percent, which is almost five times the legal limit. 

Admittedly, these are just statistics on paper, but for the families who lost loved ones and the squadrons who are going on without their teammates, the point is sobering.

Offutt has been lucky. Not one Offutt Airman has died due to a vehicle fatality involving alcohol. However, we've had 24 Airmen arrested for DUI. Yes, that's down 36 percent from last year, but that's still 24 Airmen who put themselves in a position to be part of Nebraska's DUI fatality statistics. Even worse, those Airmen could have taken lives from innocent families.

So, why do you think commanders are always talking about not drinking and driving?
It's because it's an epidemic.

According to MADD, 40 percent of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol and about 75 percent of those fatalities involve a driver with a .08 percent BAC or higher. Research shows virtually everyone is impaired with a .08 percent BAC and driving skills such as paying attention, speed control, decision making and reaction time are impaired.

A driver with a .08 percent BAC level is 11 times more likely to become involved in a fatal crash than a sober person. A driver with a .15 percent BAC level is 382 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than someone who is sober.

See the trend?

Don't get me wrong, if you're an average weight Air Force member, you're not going to register a .08 percent BAC by drinking one glass of wine or beer with dinner, but most likely you will be on that cusp if you drink three or four alcoholic beverages.

The Airmen who were killed line up with our nation's statistics on drinking and driving, so why in the world would you let your friends drive home after they've downed more than a few drinks? Why take the risk and let them put themselves or someone else in harm's way?

Here's the bottom-line. Drinking too much alcohol and getting behind a 2,000-pound bullet is not safe, it isn't good operational risk management and it puts our fellow Nebraskans and our families at risk.

Trust me when I say, there is nothing worse than tragically losing a family member when it was 100-percent preventable. I'm sure the families of our lost Airmen wish they could go back to that moment in time to prevent their loved ones from getting behind the wheel.

So I beg you, be a good wingman for the right reason; because you care -- not because you might get in trouble. Have a plan before you go out and as always, execute the "failsafe" when plan A fails by calling the Chief's Happy Cab, Airmen Against Drunk Driving, a spouse, friend or even me. 

We'll all come get you because your safety is our first priority.