By Ben Sherman, Fort SillNovember 29, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- Fort Sill is joining a nationwide crackdown this holiday season to stop impaired driving and save lives across the nation.
The Army Substance Abuse Program joined with Fort Sill and Lawton City police and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to stage an awareness event Nov. 21 at three locations on post. Law enforcement officers and ASAP counselors gave out literature and talked to people about the dangers of impaired driving, especially drunk or "buzzed" driving.
"The focus is impaired driving awareness, so that's anything to do with inebriated driving, driving under the influence of any type of medication or other drugs, or even 'drowsy driving' while tired or sleepy," said RaShonda Labrador, ASAP coordinator. "This event is coupled with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration campaign to reduce impaired-driving accidents. This is promoted every year, because we are all trying to keep drivers safe during the holidays. People are having holiday parties and there's often drinking involved, so we want to encourage safe driving."
According the NHSTA, 32,885 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2010. Thirty-one percent (10,228) of those fatalities involved alcohol-impaired drivers. During December 2010, an average of 25 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes per day. But driving under the influence of alcohol is not the only problem the impaired driving campaign addressed.
"Impaired driving can be caused by a number of factors: prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, fatigue, weather conditions, distractions such as texting while driving, as well as alcohol. All of those factors lead to very dangerous situations," Labrador said.
To give people a chance to experience how impaired driving affects a person's ability to control a vehicle, ASAP let volunteers try to drive a shopping cart through an obstacle course while wearing "Drunk Goggles." The goggles simulated intoxicated or impaired driving at a level well over the legal limit. Everybody agreed it looked easier to do than it really was.
"It was interesting, most interesting. You really don't understand the problem until you put the goggles on. It seems easy but it's not," said Staff Sgt. Michael Hill, A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery. "I've never driven while drunk or impaired so I didn't realize how badly it can affect my ability to drive."
Hill also suggested this training needed to be a requirement in Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.
"A lot of the young Soldiers come into the Army right out of high school, and after basic they have a lot more freedoms to do this kind of thing. They need to know the consequences of driving while impaired," he said.
Young adults ages 18 to 34 have the highest rates of driving while impaired. In 2010 alone, almost one-third of young people 18 to 34 who were killed in vehicle crashes were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Young males in this age group are five times more likely to drive while drunk or impaired.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kimbel, 75th Fires Brigade equal opportunity adviser, agreed with Hill.
"I'm a motorcycle rider and see what happens when people are driving impaired, not paying attention, drinking and driving and swerving across the centerline. In society we know it is a problem so it's going to be reflected in the military population as well," Kimbel said. "I have heard command briefings during my entire career in the Army, and it still hasn't solved the problem. So we are having to take it to the next level with programs like ASAP."
Event organizers emphasized the "Tipsy Tow" program. Labrador said they gave out a lot of the 'Tipsy- Tow' cards to individuals, so if they do go out and have some holiday cheer, they will have another option to get home safely if they don't have a designated driver. For more information see the fact box below.
Labrador said another major awareness is Soldiers who are on prescription medications related to their combat tours. Many of these medications can already cause diminished responses and perceptions when operating motor vehicles. Coupled with even one alcoholic drink the effects can be devastating.
"We want Soldiers to know the medications they are taking for wounds or battle-related conditions can affect their ability to drive or do other things," Labrador said. "If they have even one beer or other alcoholic drink and operate a vehicle, that is called 'buzzed driving.' You may not be legally over the limit, alcohol-wise, but you can be impaired. If you are on medications, you need to avoid alcohol."
"Buzzed driving" includes driving under the influence of any combination of alcohol and the following: prescriptions medications (whether prescribed to you or someone else), over-the-counter medications (cough medicines, allergy medications, pain relievers, sleep aids and such), illegal substances (marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, Spice, 'bath salts,' etc.) and any other drugs or substances that can cause euphoria, distorted perceptions or impaired ability to operate motor vehicles. Soldiers are also reminded that operating any vehicle while drunk or impaired by any substance are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 111. Soldiers found to be under the influence of any drug or substance that leads to impairment or "stupefaction" are subject to Article 112a of the UCMJ.
"We want all Soldiers, family members and civilians at Fort Sill to have a happy holiday season and enjoy celebrating with others, but to keep in mind if they have anything to drink, they should have a sober designated driver, call a cab or call Tipsy Tow to take them home. It is not worth the risk to your life, your future and the lives of others to drive while impaired," Labrador said.