Safe summer planning

  • Published
  • By Capt. Clayton Cox
  • 341st Missile Wing Legal Office
As the weather warms up, people are starting to think about getting outside and having fun. In all the vacation planning and road-trip mapping, here are some plans to consider: How does a free, six-month trip to Cascade County Jail sound? How about paying for a taxi to tour Glacier National Park? What about booking an extended stay in intensive care, including a luxurious hospital bed and eating through a tube? Not interested? Then plan to drive sober this summer. Driving drunk often leads to imprisonment, driving restrictions, and injury or death.

Montana's criminal penalties for driving under the influence are among the stiffest in the country. In Big Sky Country, a first offense for drunk driving results in a suspension of driving privileges for six months and a fine of $300 to $1,000. Furthermore, a first offense DUI comes with jail time anywhere from 24 hours up to six months. A little time behind bars is sure to cast a shadow over anyone's summer vacation.

When drivers don't learn from their first offense, the state punishment increases. A second drunk driving offense results in mandatory suspension of driving privileges for one year and jail time increases up to a year. After driving privileges are restored, repeat offenders still face restrictions and must install an ignition interlock device on their car. This costly device (paid for by the drunk driver) requires the driver to blow into a tube so that a breathalyzer can measure the alcohol content in the person's body before the car will start. After a third offense, the penalties increase again, and getting a fourth DUI in a 10-year period merits a felony conviction, which ruins more than vacation plans.

Furthermore, when drunk drivers cause personal or property damage while DUI, they can expect to be named as defendants in a civil lawsuit seeking monetary compensation from them. There have been numerous cases where individuals who hurt someone or damaged property while DUI were forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in restitution to the injured party.

On top of non-military punishments, local Air Force commanders may decide to take action against drunk drivers for their misdeeds. Commanders have a wide variety of tools at their disposal to handle these situations. They include revoking base driving privileges, placing a member on a control roster, activating an unfavorable information file, revoking a security clearance, negative comments on an enlisted or officer performance report, letters of reprimand or admonishment, administrative demotion, denying reenlistment and possible administrative separation. Commanders may take Uniform Code of Military Justice action in cases that occur on a military installation or in cases where civilian authorities turn over jurisdiction to the military.

With all of the negative consequences of drinking and driving, why anyone would risk their career, their life and the lives of others by drinking and driving is beyond comprehension. Although no one plans on getting arrested for DUI, anyone who drinks and drives should expect it and the punishment that follows. Whether administratively demoted, given an Article 15, thrown out of the Air Force or locked away in a civilian or military prison, a DUI arrest results in severe punishment. There is no happy ending for those caught drinking and driving.

Many people will be making summers plans that include alcohol in the mix. At the Malmstrom Legal Office, we want Airmen to consider all of their options and make good decisions so that they get to visit Glacier, not the Cascade County Jail. When Airmen drink, they should not drive. One night of partying can ruin all that they have worked so hard to earn. No one in this force should risk their future, their career, their freedom or their life. Here's to safe, sober and happy travels this year.