How Designated is Your Driver?
STAFF SGT. MATTHEW J. SULLIVAN
Joint Force Headquarters
Mississippi Army National Guard
In the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 1996, a mid-sized sedan traveled down the highway with four occupants. The driver was a 20-year-old specialist from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The passengers in the car were his roommate, also a specialist, and their girlfriends. The driver was going over the posted speed limit and there was a light rain that had been falling for a few hours. He’d driven this road from his installation to the city, where they partied, several times, but this trip was different.
You see, the designated driver that night was not sober at all. It was common practice amongst their group of friends that the designated driver was just the guy/girl who was the least drunk when it was time to leave. It was estimated that he had at least five alcoholic beverages throughout the night. He was in no condition to drive but chose to anyway. It was an adult decision that had very adult consequences.
As he sped the car down the road, the driver lost control and swerved several times. The road conditions and his delayed reaction time from the alcohol compounded the danger, making it impossible to correct. The car slid sideways one last time and traveled off the roadway, striking a guardrail directly in the center of the passenger’s side. They were moving with such speed and hit with such force that the guardrail cut the car completely in half. The front-seat passenger and driver had on their seat belts. The two passengers in the rear did not.
Police and ambulance crews arrived quickly, but not fast enough to stop the poor decisions made earlier that night. The paramedics pronounced both rear-seat passengers dead at the scene. Though buckled up, the front-seat passenger’s injuries were severe. She was life-flighted to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival. The driver walked away from the accident with only minor injuries.
Although more than 25 years have passed, I remember that night in vivid detail. I was turning 20 and out celebrating with my friends from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when I received a phone call that my brother, Patrick, died in that car accident. To this day, I have never felt so much pain, anger and helplessness in one moment. What was supposed to be a day for celebration turned into a lifetime of anguish.
That leads us back to the title of this article. How designated is your driver? Are they exhausted from that 24-hour duty shift? Did they just spend a long week in the field and are now ready to cut loose? Did they get a new prescription and are unsure of the side effects? Or are they a six pack into the weekend and you all forgot to figure out who’s driving home? All of these questions have easy answers if you manage the risk beforehand.
Trust me, you do not want to be on the other end of a phone call like I was that night. Likewise, you do not want to be the cause of that call. Remember that buzzed driving is drunk driving and risk management should never be an afterthought.