(File photo)

Military families know Memorial Day has a special purpose, but it’s a fact that many Americans see the long weekend as a time to celebrate. Too often, that celebration involves drinking and driving and results in traffic crashes and deaths.

Nationwide, Memorial Day weekend averages more than 300 fatal traffic crashes, the most among any major holiday weekend in the U.S., according to statistics from the National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration. The Missouri State Highway Patrol noted that during last year’s holiday weekend, 1,009 crashes occurred in the Show-Me State alone, which resulted in eight deaths, 433 injuries and 96 arrests of drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated.

“Too many people die in traffic crashes each year in Missouri,” Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Eric Olson said in a May 6 press release. “The choices you make when you’re behind the wheel matter. Make good choices, so you’ll never have to say, ‘if I could just go back.’”

Olsen also noted that the weekend is traditionally the unofficial start to boating season in the state, which saw seven boat crashes and 10 arrests for boating-while-intoxicated by the Missouri State Water Patrol in 2019.

COVID-19 precautions

This year, the patrol is urging motorists and boat operators to not only make good decisions behind the wheel but also take new safety precautions regarding COVID-19.

“(The patrol) recognizes Memorial Day weekend is highly anticipated, especially after these last few months,” Olsen said. “A safe, fun weekend starts with planning and good decisions. Please remember to observe social distancing and other (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, and stay home if you are ill. If your plans include driving or boating, choose to be courteous and obey all Missouri laws. Use a seat belt when you drive and wear a life jacket when you’re on or near the water. Always pay attention, whether you’re operating a vehicle or a vessel, and choose to be a sober driver on land and on the water.”

Know the consequences

For service members, civilian employees, contractors and family members, drinking and driving can have serious consequences regardless of whether an incident or arrest happens on post or outside the gate.

Under Fort Leonard Wood Regulation 190-5 (https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/download_file/force/7530/937), on-post driving privileges can be immediately suspended for drivers found to have a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent when operating personal vehicles or .04 percent if operating a commercial vehicle on post — or for violating Missouri law, which has the same limits off post.

According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, service members can potentially face Article 15 penalties and may be tried by court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the harshest penalties being the forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a dishonorable discharge and confinement. A DUI, defined as driving under the influence of drugs or other substances, can mean up to 6 months imprisonment, a $500 fine, court-ordered alcohol treatment and addiction programs and drivers-license forfeiture for 90 days for a first offense – up to 10 years for subsequent offenses.

In addition to the loss of actual freedom, DWI/DUI convictions can also include a loss of financial freedom. Court costs, attorney’s fees, increased insurance costs, bond payments and the license reinstatement process are expensive. According to highway-patrol statistics, the costs associated with a single conviction average nearly $3,000 in Missouri. USACRC officials estimate the total costs of a conviction to be between $5,000 and $20,000, depending on the location of the arrest and the circumstances involved.

On the ‘Web:

More information, statistics and tips to prevent drinking and driving are available on the following websites and online publications:

—USACRC home page: https://safety.army.mil/HOME.aspx

—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/drinkinganddriving

—Missouri State Highway Patrol: http://www.mshp.dps.mo.gov/MSHPWeb/Publications/Brochures/documents/SHP-442a.pdf.

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