National Safety Month a reminder to reduce off-duty accidents
Sailors assigned to Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) wear impaired vision goggles and drive karts to simulate driving under the influence during a summer safety expo. During National Safety Month, all military branches are reminding service members to stay safe both on and off duty. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Connor Loessin/Released)
By Rindi White
The U.S. Army loses nearly 100 soldiers each year in off-duty accidents. It’s the equivalent of losing nearly a company per year from the Army. June is National Safety Month, and the Army, along with other military branches, is reminding service members to stay safe both on an off duty.
One of the most common factors in off-duty accidents? Alcohol, according to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, or ACRC. Most often, the fatalities stem from alcohol use combined with driving, handling weapons, boating, swimming, fishing or participating in other activities.
Another common denominator: private motor vehicle accidents. Between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, an average of 81 soldiers a year died in motor-vehicle accidents — half of which were related to motorcycles, although ATVs, snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles also took a toll. Statistically, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt were the most common reasons cited for fatalities.
Distracted driving was also an issue. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study showed that reaching for a phone, dialing and texting triples the risk of getting into a crash.
Many of the accidents were related to motorcycles — 34 fatalities in fiscal year 2016 alone. More than half were single-vehicle accidents.
The Army estimates between 12 to 15 percent of soldiers ride motorcycles, but that population accounted for half the vehicle-related off-duty deaths in 2016. Wearing personal protective equipment — including a helmet — is one obvious way to increase safety while riding a motorcycle, but more importantly, it’s the law for all Army personnel. So is completing a Basic Rider Course.
According to the ACRC, between 2012 and 2016 the Army lost an average of seven soldiers each year to water-related activities. Knowing currents and undertows in the area is important, as is knowing the depth. Of the 36 soldiers who died in water-related activities in that five-year span, three more were permanently disabled by diving into shallow water.
Another surprisingly dangerous activity: walking. According to ACRC, 30 soldiers died due to pedestrian collisions in the five-year reporting span. Almost all were male, nearly two-thirds were under 30 years old and most were enlisted. Alcohol was a factor in nearly one-quarter of the collision deaths, but most were not drinking-related.
Of the 30, seven were killed near a fender-bender or disabled vehicle, either their own or someone else’s. ACRC encourages service members to put as much space as possible between yourself and traffic if stopping to help or repairing your own vehicle.
Most of the collisions, however, were mainly due to pedestrian inattention. According the ACRC, the driver was not at fault in almost all of the cases. Four were deaths by train. One was a soldier lying on the tracks, which is an obviously risky situation.
A few tips for walkers: be sure you are visible. Wear reflective clothing at night and carry a flashlight. During the day, make eye contact with drivers. Always be predictable — be where drivers expect you to be. Use a crosswalk. Don’t step suddenly out from behind a parked vehicle or other visual obstruction. Look both ways and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Avoid walking when intoxicated; take a cab or car service or call a friend for a ride.
Privately owned weapons accounted for 22 deaths in the five-year reporting span. Most happened when a soldier deliberately pointed a weapon that they thought was unloaded at someone. More than half were linked to alcohol consumption, and all but two happened between 7 p.m. and 3:30 a.m.
A good rule of thumb, ACRC recommends, is “Once the drinks come out, firearms stay in.”
Families can help service members stay safe, too. The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center has a Family Engagement Kit available for free (https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/HomeandFamily/FamilyEngagementKit.aspx) to families who request one.