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NEWS | Dec. 4, 2014

JBLE members encouraged to think before driving

By Airman 1st Class Areca T. Wilson 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, a period designated to educate drivers on the dangers of getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

"Drunk and drugged driving can result in horrible tragedies and loss of life," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Derrick Whitaker, 633rd Air Base Wing Safety Office safety craftsman. "We must increase awareness and send the message to military and Department of Defense personnel that driving under the influence is dangerous and presents a serious public risk to yourself and other individuals on the road."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk-driving accounts for 31 percent of all motor vehicle accidents and drugs, such as marijuana, are credited for 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths.

"As you may suspect, yes there is usually an increase in the number of drivers under the influence during the holiday season," Whitaker said. "Reason being, it's the time people hold parties and festivities more often and alcohol is part of those social functions.  Also, people tend to drink more around family and friends. Many holiday drivers, when under the influence, often underestimate their level of impairment."

To improve one's understanding of the effects of both drugs and alcohol on the human body, Whitaker explained the difference between stimulants and depressants.

"Stimulants can affect an individual's driving by altering the function of the brain and body," said Whitaker. "The results can induce fatigue, depression and disturbance of sleep patterns. They can also increase blood pressure and heart rate, constrict blood vessels and increase blood glucose."

Alcohol, which is a depressant, is the opposite of a stimulant. Whitaker continued by further explaining its effects.

"Drinking interferes with a person's coordination, driving skills and judgment," he continued. "It causes the individual to lose control and become aggressive, which in turn affect driving skills. Drinking can affect the brain for hours, and sometimes hinder the person until the next morning."

Whitaker also explained repeated high doses of stimulants over a short period of time can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia while alcohol also impairs vision, reduces reaction time, increases difficulty in obeying road rules and makes drivers overly confident, which may lead to risk-taking behavior.

In addition to knowing the effects of drugs and alcohol on the body, Whitaker also highlighted various penalties of getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

"Penalties increase substantially if you are involved in an accident or you are a repeat offender," He said. "They range from temporary impounding of your vehicle, a fine of several thousands of dollars, ignition locks installed on your vehicle, probation, possible jail time, revocation of driver's license and completion of substance abuse classes at your own expense. If the accident resulted in a death, you can be charged with manslaughter or vehicular homicide both--can lead to imprisonment for multiple years."

If you do decide to drink this holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following tips to help improve one's safety:
- Prior to any drinking, designate a non-drinking driver. 
- Don't let your friends drive impaired. Take their keys away.
- If you have been drinking, get a ride home or call a taxi.
- If you're hosting a party where alcohol will be served, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate their sober driver and offer alcohol-free beverages.

Spreading these tips and educating other drivers on the effects of drugs and alcohol will not only help save their lives but also passengers and innocent bystanders.

"Everyone benefits from National Drunk and drugged Driving Prevention Month," said Whitaker. "When an individual drives impaired, they are not just putting themselves at risk; they are endangering anyone else who is in the vehicle and everyone else on the road."