DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Thanksgiving, and several other holidays, are right around the corner. Whether your family is all singing, “Over the River and Through the Woods,” or you’re driving solo, the members of the 436th Airlift Wing Safety Office would like to remind you to drive safely and make good decisions this holiday season.
From Jan. 1 through June 30, 2018, four Dover Airmen experienced privately owned motor vehicle incidents that resulted in lost work time. Although the Airmen involved in these incidents weren’t determined to be at fault, they, and the Air Force, still paid a hefty price. These four incidents cost the Air Force more than $305,000 in expenses, 53 percent of all mishap expenses during this six-month period. While the financial costs of vehicle collisions can be staggering, the greatest risk in any incident is losing an Airman.
“Simply put, people are our most valuable resource at Eagle Wing,” said Tim Hahn, 436th Airlift Wing occupational safety and health technician. “We need you, and any amount of time away from the workplace impacts the mission. If you’re gone for any length of time your coworkers, work center, unit and the Wing suffer.”
Not all incidents are equal, and operating a motor vehicle can be dangerous especially in bad weather or if the driver’s decision making is impaired in any way, Hahn said. Impairment is not limited to drugs and alcohol, but can include any factor that contributes to slow reactions like texting or talking on the phone, having inadequate rest or emotional stress.
Since 2007, Team Dover has experienced more than 100 major motor vehicle incidents, at least seven of which resulted in the loss of life.
“I have investigated almost all fatal mishaps involving Eagle Team members since 2004, and sadly, the majority were preventable,” Hahn said.
In 2014, a senior airman assigned to Eagle Wing lost his life while driving in Pennsylvania. After spending a three-day weekend with his girlfriend, and returning from a late night of partying, the Airman attempted to make an 80-mile drive to work through a well-forecasted winter storm. Making matters worse, his vehicle, a modified light-weight sports car with more than 400 horse power was equipped with ultra-high performance summer tires. About an hour into his trip, he lost control of his vehicle and was struck by a large truck, dying instantly.
Hahn said there is a good possibility his death could have been prevented if he more accurately assessed the risks he was facing. Anyone in this type of situation should first of all, plan ahead, call their supervisor, explain the hazards and ask for more time until the roads are clear.
In an August 2007 incident, an Airman assigned to Eagle Wing died after being ejected from his sport utility vehicle in West Virginia. Ten days prior to the incident, his mother had a slight heart attack and underwent surgery. His initial request for leave upon news of his mother’s condition was denied. After working six 12-hour days, averaging only about five hours of sleep each night, his leave was approved and he attempted to make a 16-hour drive to Indiana.
To Hahn, this was an example of the critical role supervisors play in keeping Airmen safe. Programs like emergency leave, the Red Cross and the Air Force Aid Society offer solutions to Airmen facing such family emergencies by affording Airmen additional time and travel options.
“Supervisors have a responsibility to their subordinates by reviewing their leave plans to include an honest discussion regarding transportation options,” Hahn said. “Unit first sergeants are your best source for information. The long work hours endured by this team member subjected him to a condition called chronic sleep deprivation. He averaged 5-hours sleep per day which played a major factor in this mishap.”
During the holidays, more people are on the road rushing around to buy last-minute gifts or food, pick up family members at the airport, hit an early morning sale or travel to and from holiday parties.
Wintery weather can lead to bad roads and holidays can contribute to stressful driving. When combined, the result could be dangerous or even deadly. Thinking things through instead of acting in the moment is a good approach to staying safe this holiday season.
The U.S. Air Force Safety Center suggests driver’s follow these safety tips before deciding to travel.
Don’t drive tired, upset, or impaired
Check your tire pressure and vehicle emergency kit
Keep your gas tank at least half-full
Do not use cruise control while driving on wet or slippery surfaces
Accelerate and decelerate slowly and increase your following distance behind vehicles
Know your brakes and allow for more stopping time
Don’t drive if you don’t have to
“There’s a saying: ‘Hind sight is always 20/20,’ and it’s actually a final step in the Risk Management process called ‘Review,’” Hahn said. “I believe we owe it to ourselves, and our teammates to look closely at the hazards of any situation – on and off duty – identify them and use the best abatement actions possible. Accept no risk that doesn’t outweigh the benefit.”
For more information and tips on safe driving visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/.