Buying in to Driver Training
CAPT. MARK LAPAGLIA
Pennsylvania State Safety Office
Pennsylvania Army National Guard
Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania
Last summer, the Pennsylvania State Safety Office conducted an unofficial investigation into recent vehicle mishaps. The reason for these investigations was due to an increase in vehicle mishaps from the previous year. There were as many accidents in a three-month period in 2019 as there were in six months the year prior. It also seemed the accidents are getting more severe.
What were the reasons for the accidents? I looked into three of the incidents and noticed some trends right from the beginning. The biggest trend was leader engagement — or a lack thereof. When questioning Soldiers from the unit, there was one question that kept repeating in my head: “Where was the leadership?” In a safety investigation, it is not about finding fault, but trying to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.
The reason I kept thinking about leadership in regard to those accidents is because I also was once a company commander. What would I have done during that rash of accidents? What were the causes of the accidents? Did the commander have too much to focus on during a drill weekend? Was it lack of experience? Was each leader thinking someone else had it handled? I found it was all of these things and some bad decisions.
The main issue was some of the Soldiers operating the vehicles were not licensed. Does that cause an accident? No, but it is a contributing factor. The Soldiers were able to operate the vehicle because they were trained, but not licensed. Leadership started the licensing process but never finished it. Every leader thought someone else had checked or finalized the process. There was no follow up, no accountability.
As leaders, we need to assign a task and verify it is completed. That doesn’t mean we don’t trust our Soldiers. It means we check to make sure it was done and done correctly. In multiple accidents, the leadership was absent or did not verify the tasks were completed. If leaders feel they are overtasked, they need to look at the commander’s intent and prioritize what they can get done and what they will not complete.
In conclusion, the driver training program needs an overhaul. It needs leadership involvement and buy-in instead of just a check in the block. There needs to be supervision throughout the entire process so Soldiers understand how to conduct preventive maintenance checks and services and to operate the vehicle. Only then will we see the mishap arrow turn downward.