Sabers who drive safely can avoid becoming a statistic

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Quarterly flight safety meetings are full of information from campfires to automobiles.

Everywhere you look, someone is throwing the word "safe" in your face. Why? Those in the safety business are taught to ask "Why?" several times.

For example, why is safety omnipresent in everything the Air Force does? There may be reasons behind the ever-increasing push on safety.

The following statistics help bring to light the safety issues at hand in our Air Force. Perhaps these statistics won't change the way people think about safety, but hopefully, they will put safety into an understandable perspective.

Below is an abundant amount of automobile safety statistics and information derived from the U.S. Air Force Safety Center database, as well as the 52nd Security Forces Squadron Reports and Analysis section. While this information does not include data from geographically separated units, similar events occur there, as well.

According to statistics, driving accidents are a significant issue at Spangdahlem. According to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe safety office, in recent months Sabers have had the highest rate of off-duty driving mishaps per 1000 people of any wing in the command. The accident total for fiscal year 2009 was at 678 total accidents as of Oct. 1. That's 678 accidents in less than one year, averaging about two accidents per day.

The USAFE goal is to have less than three automobile mishaps per 1000 people per year, and with approximately 15,000 people here, Spangdahlem's accident rate is much higher than where it should be.

Out of these accidents, 477 were minor or less than $10,000 in damages, 171 disabled the vehicle and 14 had damage totaling more than $10,000. Unfortunately, another 16 involved significant personal injuries that required medical treatment, and there was one fatality. If you do the math, you'll discover the numbers above add up to 679 accidents. This is because there was one fatality at a GSU, where statistics are not included in 52nd FW reports. So, that's 678 - plus one - accidents in one year.

Forty-six percent, or 314, involved more than one vehicle. Why is this pertinent information for Saber drivers? That means more than half the accidents involved no other vehicle and were caused by drivers speeding excessively, going off the side of the road, impacting guardrails, not stopping in time while exiting autobahns or otherwise causing accidental damage where there's no one else to blame. If you think that can't happen to you, consider the statistical probabilities. If you had a 54 percent chance of losing in Vegas, would you consider that a good bet?

Also in fiscal 2009, there were 44 accidents involving government vehicles - 17 between two government vehicles and 27 between a government and personal vehicle. There were 59 accidents involving a government vehicle and a fixed object. For personal vehicles, there were 212 accidents with fixed objects, 84 categorized as with "other" such as an animal, and one with a pedestrian.

What caused these 678 - plus one - accidents? Inattentive driving was the reason for 195, or 29 percent, meaning the driver wasn't watching the road, changing a CD, talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. Improper backing or obstructed view was the cause of 128, or 19 percent. Speeding, driving too fast for conditions or reckless driving accounted for 98, or 14 percent. Weather conditions caused 77 accidents, or 11 percent, of the year's total. The remaining 26 percent were caused by animals in the road, traffic violations and other factors.

Thirteen accidents involved drivers that were driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, which is difficult for many to understand due to the importance placed on responsible drinking. This number does not even reflect the total incidents on base.

What does this all mean?

It doesn't mean Sabers should quit driving outside the installation thinking accidents don't happen off base like they do on base. Thirty-two percent, or 219, accidents occurred on base.

Drivers should focus on what they're doing and where they're going. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Airmen are 60 times more likely to die in an automobile accident in the contiguous U.S. than to die in combat during a three-month deployment.

Drivers should focus on driving and not try to multi-task. If Sabers do their best to not become a statistic, maybe fiscal 2010 can be different.