By Ms. Lori Yerdon, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterDecember 6, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Dec. 6, 2016) - In 2012, an inaugural presidential proclamation designated December as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month in an effort to promote responsible decision-making and encourage Americans to prevent impaired driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (those with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 of higher). During 2014, 9,967 people were killed in these preventable crashes.
"It's important that we observe National Impaired Driving Prevention Month for a number of reasons," said Diana Wigle, chief, NHTSA Impaired Driving Division. "It helps remind all drivers that driving after drinking is dangerous not only to themselves, but to everyone else on the road."
Wigle added that the observance happens at a time when Americans are typically attending celebrations and parties during the holidays.
"The observance helps increase general awareness that drunk driving is still a very significant problem in this country," she said.
Army accident reports show that to date for fiscal 2016, four Soldiers have died in alcohol-related private motor vehicle accidents. The following are summaries of those accidents:
• A Soldier apparently lost control of his PMV and crashed. He was wearing a seat belt but later succumbed to his injuries. Authorities cite speed and alcohol as contributing factors to the accident.
• A Soldier hit a curb while driving his PMV. He was found dead at the scene along with another Soldier injured in the front seat. Three civilian passengers were ejected from the vehicle; two were killed and one was listed in critical condition. Speed and alcohol were factors in the accident.
• A Soldier died from injuries suffered as a passenger in a PMV accident. The driver, also a Soldier, drove at an excessive speed and collided with a tree. The unbelted Soldier passenger was thrown from the vehicle. An investigation revealed the driver, who suffered minor injuries, was under the influence of alcohol.
• A Soldier was found having crashed his motorcycle into a roadside ditch after his co-rider noticed he was no longer trailing him. The Soldier was wearing full PPE and was licensed and trained, but suffered fatal injuries. Alcohol was a factor in the accident.
"It's imperative that Soldiers look out for each other and practice risk management in all aspects of their lives," said Robert Myrick Jr., Driving Directorate, USACRC. "Stepping up to prevent a driver from driving impaired will not only save their life, but also the lives of innocent victims."
While the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities has fallen over the past five years, the nation is still averaging 10,000 alcohol-related fatalities a year.
"Alcohol-related fatalities have declined some, but all highway fatalities have declined as well," Wigle said. "What's important to look at is not the overall numbers, but if there's been any change in the percentage of overall motor vehicle fatalities that are alcohol impaired. That number has not changed."
Myrick said there are still common misconceptions about impaired driving such as "It's only one drink," "I'm only driving a short distance," or "I have a high tolerance for alcohol, so I'm good."
Wigle added that there is a common misperception when it comes to blood alcohol concentration levels.
"Most people equate impaired driving to a .08 or above blood alcohol concentration," she said. "Most people think they cannot get arrested for impaired driving with a BAC under .08. Law enforcement officials observe a person's behavior and if that person is impaired, unable to drive safely and they drive, then they could be arrested.
"Many studies have shown alcohol impairment begins at .02," Wigle explained. "While impairment begins at .02 with a decline in visual functions and performing two tasks at the same time, at .05 it becomes more evident with reduced coordination, ability to track moving objects and response to emergency driving situations."
"Drinking alcohol affects a person's ability to make good decisions," Myrick said. "The key is to have a plan prior to a night out on the town. Keeping your family, friends and future at the forefront of your planning will help ensure you have an enjoyable evening rather than ruining your life."