Tis the Season to be mindful of drunk drivers, practice wingmanship

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Maureen Harback
  • 92nd Medical Squadron commander
Every Christmas Eve I celebrate my life. And, I give thanks for being able to share the holiday with my family. Twenty-eight years ago on Christmas Eve, my father, brother and I were hit by a drunk driver.

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

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 over 80 miles an hour in a 45 mile an hour zone. He never remembered what happened that night so the sequence of events from his standpoint is speculation. I expect he was too impaired to realize that the traffic light turned red; he could not have slowed much to approach us so quickly.

We proceeded through the intersection turning left on the green turn signal when his vehicle suddenly appeared on the right traveling in the direction we were turning. 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, nearly 30 years later, this is still a fairly predictable scenario. Holiday drinking often leads to buzzed and drunk driving. Mother's 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 insure 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. Seatbelts 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.

Twenty eight 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 forward and ask that everyone at Fairchild think before they drink, designate a driver and drive defensively.
With a concerted effort, we can all enjoy a happy and healthy holiday and return safely in 2010.