Friday nights and flashing lights

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Frank Hartnett
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
We all understand that drunk driving is illegal, dangerous and incompatible with the expectations of being an Airman. Usually, when we discuss drunk driving, we talk about evenings that went wrong or people who injured or killed others because of poor and selfish decisions. 

I want to tell a different story. The story is from personal experience and shows what happens when you exercise good judgment. 

Last weekend, I volunteered to be the designated driver for my friends as we drove into town. The night started out pretty well; we danced to a local band that we had seen in the nightlife listing of the paper. It was a typical Friday night and one where normally we all might have had a drink or two, figuring I could have one and be fine to drive. With the icy roads, however, I decided to take extra precautions and stuck with water. 

It was a little past one in the morning when we moved on home. The radio was on and we were talking about the band and laughing about the night as I approached a four-way intersection, waited for the light and made a left turn. 

As I headed down the highway I saw flashing red and blue lights in my rear-view mirror. Immediately my pulse spiked and I wondered if I had been speeding or missed a sign. The officer had explained that he had pulled me over because my vehicle had only one license plate. Vehicles registered in Alaska require a plate on the front and rear; my car is registered in Pennsylvania which requires only one plate. This explanation brought a sigh of relief because I knew I had no reason to be ticketed. 

That relief died with his next words. 

"Sir, I can smell alcohol coming from your car. Please step out of the vehicle for a field sobriety test." 

It's strange, but even when you know you have done the right thing it is nerve-wracking to be under the scrutiny of the law. As I stood outside my car, I listened closely to the trooper's instructions and wondered if any errors I made might be enough to complicate the situation. I can't imagine how much more terrifying that test would have been if I had been drinking at all, even just one, that night. It's an easy thing to do but it's a risk I'll never take again. 

I passed the test because I made the right decision earlier that night and stuck with it. As I continued on home, I thought what would have happened if I hadn't made a good decision. I thought of the disappointment I would be to my friends, family and co-workers. I imagined the crushing sense of shame for failing to serve as a good example to my subordinates. Not to mention the lives I would have put at risk if I was drunk behind the wheel. 

I'm not looking for a pat on the back by telling you this. Being suspected was intimidating under the best circumstances and I hope that sharing my experience will help you to remember the importance of sticking with good decisions.