This month is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, which brings me back to a memory that is still very fresh in my mind.
Last month, I went out to a cold and snowy Carson City, Nevada to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins.
I always love seeing my family, but this trip was not one I was looking forward to.
November 11 of this year marked the 10-year anniversary of losing my cousin Ben.
Ben was a 22-year-old competitive dirt bike racer, a happy-go-lucky guy and the father of a 2-year-old boy named Seth when we lost him that night.
The reason: drinking and driving.
Ben was driving down a dangerous highway at an extremely high blood alcohol level when he lost control of the car.
He hit a tree, and he died instantly.
I’ll never forget the morning of November 11, 2005.
I was 15 years old, and my mom came into my room and told me what had happened.
I loved Ben and looked up to him, and the thought of him gone still seems strange to this day.
I believe the attitude we as a society have of drinking and driving is fundamentally flawed, and to illustrate this, I need to tell you what happened to me in the years following this tragedy.
At first, I was so spooked by the idea of drinking and driving.
It made no sense.
There are so many ways to avoid it, and after personally losing someone to this, I thought there was no possible way I would ever drink and drive.
But that wasn’t the case.
I tried alcohol for the first time only nine months after losing Ben.
It just seemed like the thing to do in high school, especially with my insatiable desire to fit in.
Drinking seemed harmless to me, but I still never wanted to cross the line to drink and drive.
Nine months later, I so excitedly received my driver's license.
Probably not even one or two months later, I was drunk behind the wheel.
How could this happen?
Well for starters, I ended up getting sober six years later at the age of 21 because I had a horrendous drinking problem and am now a recovering alcoholic.
But, the beginning of my story is not unusual.
I believe the messages we put out to the media about drinking and driving are way off-base.
We see commercials talking about the dangers and costs of getting a DUI.
However, one message that needs be shouted across the media channels is, “You are lucky to get a DUI.”
Yes, getting a DUI is inconvenient, it costs quite a bit of money and it will hurt your record.
But a lot of people don’t realize the real potential costs of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
What we don’t show enough is there are many kids growing up without a dad, like my little cousin Seth.
We don’t show the parents who lost their children from a 100 percent preventable tragedy.
We don’t show the image my mom had to walk in on: Her only daughter strapped down to the bed with tubes coming out of her body in the ICU.
The doctors told her I would have died within 30 minutes if the ambulance wasn’t there right away.
Even with all of the personal experiences I had with drinking and driving, when I was 17 years old, I drifted across eight lanes of traffic and crashed into the fence of my local airport with one of my best friends in the front seat.
I was extremely lucky. I couldn’t see it then, but I absolutely see it now.
There is a psychological effect that most humans have called "the optimism bias," which causes a person to believe he or she is at less of a risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.
On any given day, we as humans are more likely to believe a stranger will get into a car crash than us.
That’s why we get upset when someone cuts us off because they are texting and driving, and then five minutes later, we are looking at our phones behind the wheel.
We truly believe we can handle it better.
Then when you put alcohol in the mix, we truly believe we are indestructible.
Being sober now, I am the designated driver when I go out with my drinking friends.
Even when I'm the person who hasn't ingested one drop of alcohol, my buzzed friends still offer to drive because they "feel fine."
Of course you feel fine. You’re totally buzzed!
Our judgment is extremely impaired after drinking, and when you add this on top of the optimism bias, we’re totally screwed.
The bottom line is there is no excuse for drinking and driving.
With Uber, Hotel Tonight and other resources, there is really no valid excuse for getting in the car after drinking.
Drunk driving is an incredibly selfish and idiotic act.
Remember: Getting a DUI is a best-case scenario.
When you come out of a blackout and ask your friends how you guys got home, and they say, “How could you not remember you drove us home?” or when you feel relieved after getting away with driving home drunk, it’s time to take a serious look at yourself.
Stay safe out there, kids.