By Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 08, 2012
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- In the hustle and bustle of a day filled with appointments and errands around base, safety may not always be at the forefront of driver's minds.
Instead, drivers may often neglect important safety guidelines in the rush to get from point A to point B.
Over the past 10 years, 536 Airmen ended up in fatal motor vehicle mishaps. While not all of these accidents occurred on an installation, following safe driving practices on base not only will filter into one's daily habits, but may also save lives.
"Our challenge is fostering a culture of wingmanship and impressing the importance of safety in all off-duty day to day activities," said Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, in a safety policy letter. "Special operations missions are risky but we cannot overlook hazards encountered off-duty either; regardless of duty status, freedom to ignore hazards or disregard directives is never acceptable. My expectation is that Air Commandos will never ignore safety issues"
The following are Hurlburt Field's top 10 most common driving faux-pas as identified by Joe Freese of 1st SOW Safety:
1.) Impatience - Many drivers have experienced a moment when they could feel their frustration grow either at another driver or some circumstance slowing them down. When making a driving decision based on emotions instead of logic, one may not consider safety, and it could lead to other risky driving behaviors or aggressive driving.
While many drivers state aggressive driving is a serious traffic safety problem, more than half of drivers admitted to some aggressive driving behaviors according to a study by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety. This includes 26 percent saying they have pressured another driver to speed up.
Instead, drivers should allow extra time to give a cushion in case traffic slows a driver down. It's also important to maintain at least a two-second space between cars to allow time to brake.
2.) Speeding - Although speeding is discouraged through the issuing of tickets, speeders can still be spotted in some hot spots. Traveling at higher rates of speed can limit a driver's ability to react quickly to possible changing conditions such as a child running into the road.
According to Freese, there are multiple speeding tickets issued within base housing, parking lots and by the child development center which is a school zone. Getting caught speeding in a school zone will equal a hefty, double ticket for offenders.
Simply practicing sound time management will make speeding unnecessary. Going too fast or accelerating too quickly can also eat into fuel economy.
3.) Pedestrian safety - The morning is peak physical training time for many Airmen, but it is also a time when there may be poor visibility for drivers. Both drivers and pedestrians must work together to ensure the base stays friendly for walkers and runners.
"Instead of walking down the sidewalk to the crosswalk, [pedestrians] cut through the bushes, and, if someone is coming around the corner, they just pop out," Freese said. "Once again, it's impatience and/or laziness. Just pay attention, don't ever take for granted that you're seen."
One key for pedestrians is to use sidewalks and crosswalks. If no sidewalk is available, it's usually safer for pedestrians to walk facing oncoming traffic.
Drivers should slow down as they approach crosswalks and also look both directions before proceeding through an intersection in case a pedestrian is on a corner.
4.) Cell phone usage - Despite Department of Defense policy that vehicle operators on installations and operators of government vehicles shall not use cell phones unless parked, violators can be spotted around base.
While it may seem inconvenient in this age of constant communication, talking or texting while driving greatly distracts a driver and can put everyone in danger.
According to a study sponsored by the Department of Transportation, sending a text message takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At a speed of 55 mph this is like driving the length of a whole football field blind.
"People don't realize it, but they're speeding or they're going way too slow because they're on cell phones or texting," Freese said. "Turn the cell phone off or just leave it until you get to your destination. It's only going to be 10 to 15 minutes before you get to where you're going on base."
Other options are to have a passenger message the person back or, if expecting an important call or message, pull off the road.
5.) Blocking intersections - At the end of the duty day, a common sight is a backlog of cars spilling into the intersection at the intersection of Cody Avenue and Independence Road by the front gate.
Freese explains this creates a compounding issue when drivers from the other direction get the green light and none of them can move due to the blocked intersection.
As impatience builds with trying to get out the front gate more drivers may feel compelled to block the intersection. Besides displeased drivers, the situation could also block out emergency vehicles that must get to the scene of an accident.
To alleviate this potential hazard, drivers should remain patient and keep the intersection clear.
6.) Illegal parking - If in a hurry to go to the military personnel flight or finance and there's no parking, fight the temptation to park in the spot labeled "GOV."
Illegal parking, whether by creating a parking space or incorrectly parking in a labeled spot, can cause complications. Creating a parking spot not only makes parking more congested but will also make it more likely that vehicle damage will occur.
"We've had a lot of complaints saying 'I can't get out' or 'someone has dinged my car when it was illegally parked,'" Freese said. "A lot of places have overflow parking; people just don't want to walk. Time management very much plays a part."
7.) Forgetting seat belts - Though the effectiveness of seat belts has been proven time after time, some drivers still forget or choose not to buckle up. Seat belt usage for short trips around base is where some motorists fall short.
Fender-benders can occur even during brief drives, and a seat belt may make the difference between only suffering a few bruises or broken bones. While all drivers and passengers on base must buckle up, the mandate extends further for active-duty military.
"For seat belt usage, for active duty military it's 24/7," Freese said. "There's no way around it."
Just fastening the seat belt regularly will make it a habit, and, if driving make sure passengers buckle up too.
8.) Motorcycle personal protective equipment - The Florida sunshine makes motorcycle riding a viable option for commuting to base. In order to ride on base, the proper PPE must be worn at all times.
For head protection, riders must wear a Department of Transportation- or Snell-approved helmet. To protect from road debris that may fly up, eye protection is required.
In case a rider takes a fall, long sleeve tops, pants, full-fingered gloves and over-the-ankle footwear is also necessary. Riders should additionally wear reflective clothing that creates a contrast between the rider and their motorcycle so they are more visible to other drivers.
The safety office has a favorite saying to remember the rules for motorcycle PPE: "The best way we always remember it is 'no skin below the chin,'" Freese said.
9.) Flashing fuel light - Anyone who has driven on Tully Street along the flight line on the west side of the base has seen the flashing light that turns to red to signal a crossing fuel truck. Drivers who try to run the red light are at risk of potentially hitting a fuel truck.
When the light is red, drivers must remain stopped until the light changes back to yellow even if you do not see a truck, Freese said.
The correct way to manage the light is to continue driving when it is flashing yellow. Only when it is red should you stop.
10.) Traffic circle - Independence Road has a traffic circle designed to keep a good traffic flow at a point where several lanes merge. The traffic circle works only when drivers know how to properly navigate though.
Drivers in the traffic circle have the right-of-way and do not need to stop to let other cars in, Freese said.
Those not in the traffic circle must wait for a break in traffic before entering. The circle must also be navigated at the speed limit to ensure drivers maintain control of their vehicle.
"There is no excuse for self-inflicted causalities when each and every loss is so staggering- to the loved ones left behind and to our team," Slife said in the policy letter.
For more information on driving safety, contact the 1st SOW safety office at 884-2611.