'Tis the season to drink responsibly

  • Published
  • By Col. Maureen Harback
  • 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron commander
It's that time of year when holiday parties and late night celebrations begin to fill our calendars and we look forward to spending time with family and friends to celebrate our own special reasons for the season.

Every Christmas Eve, I celebrate my life and I give thanks for being able to share the holiday with my family. Nearly 30 years ago on Christmas Eve, my father, brother and I were hit by a drunk driver.

After a busy day of last-minute shoppers, my family and I closed our business at the mall for the evening. We were one of the last cars to leave the parking lot and I remember being the only one on the road. We sat patiently at a red light waiting to cross an intersection legally, even though there was no cross traffic for as far as the eye could see. Most travelers and shoppers had returned home in preparation for the holiday.

Meanwhile earlier that evening, a 19-year-old male left a Christmas Eve party after drinking. He was traveling on the divided highway that ran perpendicular to the access road we were exiting. The highway patrol later estimated his speed at more than 80 mph in a 45 mph zone.

He never remembered what happened that night so the sequence of events from his point of view is speculation. I expect he was too impaired to realize that the traffic light turned red as he couldn't have slowed much to approach us so quickly.

As we proceeded through the intersection, turning left on the green signal, his vehicle suddenly appeared on the right traveling toward us. Fortunately, his driver's side front bumper only clipped the right front panel of our car, spinning us 180 degrees and into the grassy median. Our seat belts, fortunate timing, and the solid steel framework of our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon saved us from tragedy.

Unfortunately, more than 30 years later, this is still a fairly predictable scenario.

Holiday drinking often leads to buzzed and drunk driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that approximately 1,000 people die between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day each year in drunk driving crashes. Hundreds more are injured or impacted, as we were that night.

As an Airman, I have the responsibility to lead by example; to drink responsibly, designate a driver and be a good wingman; however, regardless of my actions, it is not enough to ensure my fellow citizens are following suit. As a result, I've adopted some defensive driving principles, and I am especially mindful of them at this time of year.

First, all riders wear a seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against drunk drivers. The safest place to be in an accident is in your vehicle and safety belts assure you stay there.

Second, avoid roadways late in the evening and very early mornings, especially on holidays and weekends. More crashes occur at these times.

Finally, when I have to travel, I pay attention. Impaired drivers often show clear signs of danger. Swerving, traveling too fast or slow for the flow of traffic, and excessive braking, put me on alert.

Thirty years ago, timing was on my side. If the drunk driver had met us in the intersection a second later, the outcome may have been grim. So, I pay it forward and ask that everyone to think before they drink, designate a driver, have a plan and drive defensively. With a concerted effort, we can all enjoy a happy and healthy holiday and return safely in 2015.

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