Summer is critical time for safety awareness

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- We are about to enter the 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign that begins on Memorial Day and lasts until Labor Day. This time frame is referred to as the "Critical Days" because of the substantial increase in off-duty mishaps experienced during this period.

Traditionally, Air Force mishap numbers are higher during these 101 days because of the additional travel associated with vacationing and the increased participation in recreational events.

It should surprise no one the leading cause -- historically, between 60 - 65 percent -- of deaths can be attributed to private motor vehicle crashes. Our fiscal year 2011 numbers have been consistent with this trend, which has been the average during the last four years. In 2010, 31 of the 51 fatalities -- or 61 percent -- involved personal motor vehicles. During the FY 2010 "Critical Days," the Air Force lost 17 Airmen.

It seems once people get behind the wheel of a vehicle, they leave supervision, checklists, operational instructions, etc. behind. It is when they are on their own like this disaster usually strikes. Unfortunately, we had four fatalities in U.S. Air Forces in Europe during FY 2010. That is nearly one quarter of all the Air Force's total fatalities in one year.

It is rare for a car crash to be so simple it has only one cause. Most crashes are the result of a complex sequence of events that come together at a particular point in time. The circumstances and causes may have been different in all of our fatalities, but there was definitely one thing they all had in common -- they were preventable.

In practically every instance, operator error was a factor. It may have manifested itself as inattention, driving too fast, exercising poor judgment or driving under the influence of alcohol. But in the final analysis, every vehicle operator could have changed his or her behavior in some manner and prevented the resulting tragedy. These Airmen unfortunately lacked the necessary discipline to do this, and they paid with their lives.

So far this fiscal year, the Air Force has already experienced 18 fatal PMV mishaps. Our numbers are already up -- way up -- and we are getting ready to enter the "101 Critical Days of Summer." There are no magic formulas to get people to exercise common sense and good judgment when they're behind the wheel. All Airmen must know they aren't invincible. Even though accidents can -- and will -- happen to all of us if we aren't careful, commanders and supervisors can mitigate some of them by continuing to stress the big three: speed, alcohol and seat belts.

We need to all dispel the myth mishaps only happen to the other guy. Let's face it; there is nothing wrong with taking that long-awaited summer vacation road trip or visiting your favorite beach or campsite. Just take the time to apply personal risk management to your particular situation and circumstances. What exactly does this mean? Simply put -- think before you act. Transfer those professional risk management principles you practice every day on the job to your personal lives this summer.

Ask yourself what could possibly go wrong and then take preventive actions where necessary. Be prepared when you decide to take a trip to the beach, the great outdoors or other type of family outing. If you take your vehicle, be sure to take a first-aid kit and a roadside emergency kit that contains flares. Proper clothing, supplies, food, water and protective equipment will also ensure you have an enjoyable and successful trip. Always have a back-up plan, so when the unexpected happens, you'll be prepared.

With the focus of the "101 Critical Days of Summer" campaign on summer safety, be sure to incorporate safe practices at work, as well. Manning is usually short this time of year due to leave schedules, deployments and a pretty high operations tempo. Because of these factors, it may take longer to do the job right the first time, but make sure you do just that. Strict compliance with technical data, checklists and regulatory requirements is a must.

The bottom line is, do the right things, the right way, and incorporate safety into everything you do. The "101 Critical Days of Summer" do not have to be our most hazardous time of year. You can make the difference for the Air Force, for USAFE and the 52nd Fighter Wing. The record for FY 2011 safety is in the hands of each and every one of us.

Remember, every mishap is preventable, and we all must do our part to promote safety. Do it for your unit, for yourself and most importantly, your family. Have an enjoyable and safe summer.