FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The Fort Irwin Police are increasing patrols and setting up sobriety checkpoints this holiday season to ensure all Soldiers, Civilians and family members get home safely.
The heightened vigilance coincides with National Drunk, Drugged Driving Prevention Month, declared by the U.S. President every December to raise awareness about the consequences of driving under the influence. Each year, more than 10,000 people die in car accidents that involve alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The risk of drunk driving incidents is even greater during the holiday season, when many people are traveling and celebrating. As Soldiers take leave, they are also at greater risk, said Dave Key, the National Training Center’s Safety Director.
“It really goes in conjunction with our preparation for Opportunity Leave,” he said. “This is one of the hazards that we face because of the involvement of alcohol in social activities, parties, etcetera, where people may be at more risk to drink and drive. So as an effort we just want to raise awareness.”
Here at Fort Irwin, drunk driving is a relatively rare occurrence, according to Fort Irwin Police Sgt. Marlon Campbell, who heads up the Traffic Safety Division.
“We don’t have a lot of traffic accidents that are attributed to drunk and drugged driving,” he said. “Most are people not paying attention, following too closely, or pulling into a parking spot, cutting it too close and sideswiping the vehicle.”
But while the rate is low, drunk driving is still a problem, Campbell added.
“Even one is too many,” he said. “It could pick up with the holiday season coming, either people leaving or more family members coming to visit Soldiers on post. It’s kind of up in the air as far as that.”
To make sure everyone stays safe, both the NTC Safety Office and the Directorate of Emergency Services are pursuing education and enforcement efforts to prevent drunk driving and other dangerous behavior. That includes conducting safety briefings, ensuring units check that Soldiers’ personal vehicles are functioning properly, and increasing the number of police patrols and sobriety checkpoints around the holidays.
“We’ll double patrols up and be looking for alcohol impaired drivers, trying to mitigate some of the impaired driving during the holiday time,” said Campbell.
At the same time, it is important to raise awareness about other hazards at this time of year, Key said. Cold temperatures can create unsafe road conditions, such as fog in Cajon Pass, or icing and snow at higher elevations. Even in the desert, the California Highway Patrol can close Fort Irwin Road if snow conditions drop below 3,000 feet. And fatigue is a danger that drivers face in any weather conditions.
The best way to stay safe is to always have a plan, according to Campbell. That could mean calling a taxi for a ride, or designating a sober driver. On post, Soldiers who have been drinking can also call the Military Police, who can help find them a ride home.
Even if an individual is not personally drinking and driving, they can still play a role in preventing accidents by watching out for friends and family members, collecting keys from party-goers and offering friends or family a place to stay overnight if they’ve been drinking.
Both Campbell and Key emphasized that not having a plan can have costly consequences. Those driving under the influence face serious injuries and death. They can also face up to $10,000 in fines if they are caught. And their actions can have far-reaching ramifications.
“If you’re killed in a drunk driving incident, there’s consequences to the family,” Key said.