Driving under the influence: A first-hand look at the consequences

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Take $10,000, put it into a grocery bag, light it on fire and watch it burn. Doing this would be insane, but when you drink and drive, you might as well strike the match.

According to an MSN.com article, a typical drunk driving charge costs about $10,000 by the time you pay bail, fines, fees and insurance, even if you didn't hit anything or hurt anybody.

But losing money isn't even close to the worst possible outcome of drunk driving.

Alcohol played a role in nearly 40 percent of U.S. automobile fatalities in 2005. That's 16,885 deaths, a figure nearly unchanged over the past decade, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Recently, a 116th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron jet mechanic was charged with driving under the influence. He wishes he would have used one of the options available to him before getting behind the wheel.

"Everyone asked me if I was okay," said Senior Airman Josh Wilkerson. "The whole 'wingman thing' was in play. I got in the car and started to drive home. The cop followed me the whole way home from the bar and pulled me over two houses from my own. He gave me a field sobriety test and asked me to take a breathalyzer. I agreed. Then he put me in handcuffs and took me to the court house."

Over a five hour period, the Airman had about six beers and a full meal.

"I felt fine, not drunk at all," said Airman Wilkerson. "But the officer said he believed I was too impaired to drive and put me in the patrol car. When I got to the station they took the handcuffs off and put ankle shackles on me. He told me he was doing all this because Georgia has a zero tolerance law that started in 2007. Whether you have one beer or six beers, if they think you're unsafe to drive and still under the legal limit they can charge you with a DUI."

Now Airman Wilkerson faces disciplinary action from his superiors and even possible jail time. He will spend close to $10,000 in court costs, fines and increased insurance rates. He wants others to learn from his mistakes.

"Plan your night from start to finish," said Airman Wilkerson. "Have an exit strategy. There are so many things I should have done; I could have called a cab or Airman Against Drunk Driving. The options were there I just didn't use them. Don't learn the lesson the hard way like I did. Don't think it can't happen to you. That's what I thought."

Although AADD should not be used as the primary strategy for getting home following a night of drinking, if other plans fall through, an AADD member can be reached at 222-0013, 335-5236, 335-5218 or 335-5228. It's a free and anonymous program.