If we have heard it once, we have heard it 100 times, “Don’t drink and drive.” We have seen posters, heard speeches, met victims’ families, seen the horrific photos and seen the decimated automobiles that resulted from drunk-driving incidents parked outside the main gate of military installations across the United States. We know the stories. Some have lived those stories, losing friends, family or coworkers to drunk driving. Reflecting on the events of this previous weekend, it seems like nothing is getting through. It just isn’t enough. Drunk driving statistics do not show any sign of improvement.

How many different ways has this point been reiterated? How many lost lives will it take before we, as a society, understand that drunk driving is never okay? It is not acceptable and it is not cool. Drunk driving is illegal. It is dangerous, not only to you, but to others. The life taken for a bad decision is not yours to take. The life taken is someone’s mom or dad, husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter.

If you don’t think that drunk driving still happens or “could never happen here,” the statistics tell quite a different story. Every day, almost 29 people in the United States die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes. That is roughly one person dying every 51 minutes. Drunk-driving claims more than 10,000 lives every year.

Alcohol is a drug, and like so many other drugs out there, it is defined as a substance that reduces the functionality of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely. This impact on the body starts at the first sip, most noticeably by affecting the central nervous system. Alcohol abuse reduces communication between the brain and the body, producing common signs such as slurred speech, loss of balance and coordination and tingling and numbness in hands and feet. It also reduces your ability to think clearly and make rational choices.

As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase. Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Then it passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates until it is metabolized by the liver. Alcohol level is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC.

At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, crash risk increases exponentially. Because of this risk, it is illegal in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher. However, even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability. In 2016, more than 2,000 of the 10,000 deaths from alcohol-related incidents were the result of crashes where drivers had alcohol levels lower than the legal amount.

The point is this: It is difficult to make safe, logical decisions under the influence of alcohol. It is difficult if not impossible to drive safely under the influence of alcohol. Driving after drinking is deadly. Do not drink and drive. You will not win. Yet, with all the statistics and public awareness campaigns, drunk-driving continues to happen at an alarming rate across the United States. There is nothing to gain from driving while intoxicated. At the very least, you could be arrested. Most likely, a DUI will ruin your life or your career. Worse — you could be involved in a traffic accident that causes serious injury or death to either yourself or an innocent victim. Could you live with that, knowing that you killed someone because of an irresponsible decision? Every day, drunk drivers take someone else’s life, too soon.

Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with blood alcohol concentrations [BACs] of .08 of higher). In 2016, there were 10,497 people killed in these preventable crashes. With unwavering regularity, statistics demonstrate that this issue is not getting any better. For the previous10-year period, more than 10,000 people died every year in drunk-driving crashes.

Drunk driving is completely preventable. If you plan on drinking, do not drive for any reason. Alternatively, find a safe ride home or designate a sober driver ahead of time. There are other options such as a taxi and public transportation or a phone call to a sober friend or family member who could provide a ride home. Look out for each other. If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel. Take their keys and help them arrange a sober ride home. If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement. Your actions could help save someone’s life. I will be releasing new installation policy this month to allow rideshare programs to access the base. Please use other forms of transportation – there is no reason not to. If you claim it’s too expensive, take one drink less and use the money for a safe ride home.

Driving a vehicle while impaired is a dangerous crime and a serious offense. Be responsible. Do not drink and drive.

All my best,

Captain David James,

Commanding Officer, NAS Lemoore