Air Force values and driving while drunk

  • Published
  • By Maj. Scott Krebs
  • 28th Medical Operations Squadron
The Air Force Core Values are no secret: integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do. We have also heard many times "do not drink and drive." We've heard that mantra so many times that we've probably become numb to it and stopped listening. 

We begin to believe "that will never happen to me." Yet, arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and referrals to the base ADAPT program come in at a regular pace, and it's not just young Airmen who get DUIs. DUIs are an equal opportunity crime, and yes they are a crime. 

DUIs are not just a bad decision. Every drunken person on the road is a danger to everyone else who is on the road at the same time. 

Do I sound bitter? Yes. Frustrated? That too. As the ADAPT program manager, I see every Airman who gets a DUI; and frankly, it gets old. It's the same old story. "I felt fine." "I didn't think I was that drunk." "That cop should not have pulled me over to begin with." The excuses go on and on. The bottom line is it is an issue of living the core values and taking personal responsibility for our actions. 

Is there an Airman on base who has not been briefed many times about alternatives to drinking and driving? Have they not been reminded about having a plan ahead of time if they are going to drink? Have Airmen not been lectured about taking care of each other and being good wingmen? We've all heard this before. Are the people who get DUIs bad people? Are they all alcoholics? Are they all dirt-bags? Are they all just too stupid to figure it out? No, they are not. The vast majority are not any of the above, although occasionally an individual who truly is an alcoholic finally gets arrested for a DUI after a long pattern of problematic drinking. The vast majority of DUI referrals received at our office are from individuals who are misinformed about the effects of alcohol or simply fail to take personal responsibility for their actions. 

Informing people about how alcohol affects them is easy. Getting people to be responsible (i.e. living the core values with regard to alcohol use) is the difficult part. 

Filling the information void is simple. The only safe amount of alcohol to drink and still drive totally unimpaired is none. Zero. Nothing. How difficult is that to figure out? As soon as you begin to drink, you begin to become impaired, ever so slightly at first, increasing in severity as you consume more alcohol over time. It's that simple. Once you reach a "peak" level of alcohol in your system, only time will sober you up. Often times, (depending on how much you drank, your gender, your weight, and how fast you drank,) it takes many hours to become sober. 

Below are some common myths that need to be squashed immediately. 

"If I have one drink per hour over the evening and then wait an hour or two, I will be okay to drive." No. Don't do this. This is a recipe for a disaster. There is no way to guess how drunk you are once you have more than one drink total, so don't try. 

"If I feel okay to drive, I probably am." Wrong. People are terrible at guessing how drunk they are. Just because they "feel" sober enough to drive doesn't mean anything and ultimately is irrelevant. Try telling a judge, your commander, or the family members of a DUI victim, "uh sorry, I really felt okay to drive." 

"I can have several beers over dinner and be okay to drive home." Wrong! You can have one beer or one glass of wine over dinner and not get a DUI. This is because the legal definition of a DUI is a blood alcohol level of .08. It is impossible to have a BAL of .08 if you have one regular-sized drink. So if you have one drink, you may be okay. One drink. But, we need to make sure it is really one drink. Many mixed drinks have several shots of alcohol in them, therefore, even though you may drink one cup of beverage, in reality you are drinking two or more alcoholic drinks. Also, a 40-ounce beer is not one drink. It is 3 ½ drinks. Know what you are drinking and keep in mind that although you may not meet the legal criteria for a DUI, you're still impaired. 

"If I follow the 0-0-1-3 guideline, I can still drive home safely." Wrong Again. The 0-0-1-3 guide is only a rule of thumb for responsible alcohol consumption. The first zero means zero underage drinking. The second zero means zero drinking and driving. The one and the three are references to paced drinking instead of binge drinking. This means having one drink per hour and no more than three drinks over the entire evening or event. This does not mean that after a night of drinking three drinks, you can drive home. Wrong. You are likely impaired and can still get a DUI if you drive after having three drinks. 

It really is simple. Do the right thing. Know your limit, plan ahead to have a sober ride to get safely home and apply the core values with regard to alcohol use. In other words, take personal responsibility for your actions.