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Play it SAFE

Play it SAFE
U.S. Army Forces Command,
Aviation Resource Management Survey
Fort Bragg, N.C.

As Soldiers in Aviation, we are tasked to operate many pieces of equipment. We are trained, evaluated and licensed. We are taught how to assess risk, mitigate it and use the best courses of action to accomplish the mission. However, dozens of Soldiers are killed every year operating a common piece of equipment — their private motor vehicle.

Years ago, I was preparing to give our annual PMV training class. As I sat there reviewing prior lesson plans, I thought about my target audience (a headquarters and headquarters company with about 60 enlisted personnel and two companies with another 70 personnel, mostly warrant officers). The common theory is you lose your audience after 15-20 minutes, so I wanted a brief class with the most important information detailed up front. I turned to my safety background and began investigating. Here’s what I discovered.

Aviation units, when compared to other units in the Army, fared better when it came to PMV accidents, meaning they had fewer incidents across the board. I contributed this to our consistent safety awareness and risk management training. (Hey, maybe people really did listen to those classes!) We are always doing risk assessments, even without thinking about it, so maybe being constantly educated about it means our process is a little more refined.

However, the same group as civilians, 18- to 25-year-old males, is more likely to be in a PMV accident. There are many possible reasons for this: maturity, experience, motivation, less risk adverse or more willing to take risk, etc. As a longtime motorcycle rider (40-plus years), I still think it is amazing that just about anyone with $12,000-15,000 can buy a motorcycle capable of racing a quarter mile in less than 10 seconds and a top speed of more than 180 mph. No special training is required for these civilians.

After identifying the groups that are involved in these accidents, I started looking for the root factors behind them. One source I used was the preliminary loss reports. After all, what better way is there to learn than from reading about other people’s mistakes? What I learned was there is at least one of four factors present in every PMV accident. (I have since upgraded that to six factors, but more on that later.) I figured if we could avoid all these factors, we could almost eliminate our PMV accidents. I told the class they needed to always think SAFE:

• Speed factor — traveling too fast for conditions, be they mechanical or environmental, or capabilities.

• Alcohol factor — people still operate a vehicle with alcohol in their system; you are not at 100 percent!

• Fatigue factor — you are too tired; reflexes and thought processes are not optimum.

• Early morning hour factor — a large percentage of PMV accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m., so beware!

As we identify the presence of these factors, we can adjust our situation and mitigate the effects for each as they relate to us. However, we must always be defensive because we know there are others we share the road with that have not identified or mitigated the effects of these factors. We must plan courses of action for how we can avoid or mitigate their irresponsibility.

Now, what about those additional two factors I mentioned earlier? They’re talking and texting, or TT. Every day I see people going off the road, rear-ending cars and generally causing hazards because they insist on talking or, even worse, texting on their cellphones. Do the math here: traveling 45 mph equals 66 feet per second to come to a stop! That’s four to six car lengths you travel in one second, depending on what is in front of you.

So that’s it — SAFE-TT. Apply SAFE-TT to your PMV operations and you may save yourself from an accident. Also be aware of others that are violating the principles of SAFE-TT. Need more evidence? Well, here’s a sad story about how ignoring SAFE-TT can affect you.

My unit administrator told me we had a new member reporting to our unit the following Monday and asked if I could schedule him for a newcomer’s safety brief. A few days later, the UA came back to my office and notified me that the very same Soldier was dead. So we had a Soldier who had never set foot in our unit area, but was assigned to us, dead. I started the Serious Incident Report after notifying all the required personnel.

Upon investigating the cause of his death, this is what I discovered: The Soldier had gone out with his friends to celebrate his 18th birthday. Afterward, he realized he was impaired, so he wisely chose to not drive home and stayed at his buddy’s house. However, at 2 a.m., he decided he was now sober enough to drive. We had just experienced the first rains of spring, and the roads were a slick. As the Soldier took a turn at an intersection doing what the police determined was 55-plus mph on a 35-mph road, he lost control of the vehicle and slid sideways into a light pole. The report stated his “occupied living space was compromised.”  In other words, the driver’s door was now in the passenger seat. He was killed instantly.

As I finished the report, I shook my head. Speeding, alcohol, fatigue and early morning hours — he had all four factors! Since that day, I’ve wondered if my PMV brief would have made a difference had I had a chance to give it this Soldier. Would he be aware of these factors and adjust his behavior? I don’t know, but I am determined to learn by his mistakes. I hope all you are too. Be safe! Apply SAFE-TT to your lives!

  • 1 July 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10341
  • Comments: 0