Returning to Normal Operations Safely
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
For the first time since we began keeping records at the Safety Center, now the Combat Readiness Center, the Army went a full calendar month with only one off-duty water-related accidental fatality of an active-duty Soldier or activated Reservist and there were no recorded off-duty private motor vehicle fatalities. Nationally, civilian fatality rates per mile driven actually increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began and total accidental vehicle fatalities only dropped slightly. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, the Army is seeing fewer overall mishaps, both on and off duty. The concern is: Where will we be once operations return to normal and Soldiers can once again experience unlimited travel while on pass or leave?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Automobile Association (AAA) indicate that planning is one of the best ways to ensure a safe and potentially mishap-free trip. The Army has one of the best planning tools around — the Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS). While it is no longer required as part of a pass or leave packet, it is still available, its use is highly encouraged and, best of all, it is free.
I recommend commanders and leaders dust off TRiPS and use it as one of your Soldier engagement tools as we slowly return to what we consider normal operations. The key principle behind TRiPS is the one-on-one leader-led interaction to discuss travel plans and risk mitigation.
A good starting point for any well-planned trip begins by getting a good night’s sleep. Working all day and signing out at midnight to start your leave increases your chances of being involved in a mishap. Driving fatigued or distracted can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 21 percent of fatal motor vehicle mishaps involve driver fatigue. Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% — the U.S. legal limit.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before your next trip:
- One of the top safety tips to avoid accidents is planning ahead. Use a trip planning tool so you can review the route of travel, see road construction along the route and plan in waypoints for pit stops or overnight accommodations.
- Build time into your trip schedule to stop for food, rest breaks, phone calls or other business.
- Adjust your seat, mirrors and climate controls before putting the car in gear.
- Pull over to eat or drink. It takes only a few minutes.
- Technology can be an asset if used wisely. Whether you use traditional road maps or GPS navigation, plan which route you’ll take ahead of time. This step lets you know which roads you’ll take along your trip. As you plan ahead, you can research the traffic levels of these roads so you can drive safer.
- If you use GPS, your navigation system may even be able to tell you which roads are under construction. When you avoid driving through construction sites, you greatly reduce your risk of accidents and injury.
- If possible, avoid driving at night to reduce your chances of getting into a crash. Driving conditions are more hazardous at night when nocturnal animals could wander onto the road or a speeding driver may hit an obstacle and cause an accident.
- Before your trip, look into hotels along your route so you don’t have to make too big of a detour. Additionally, booking a hotel in advance can make stopping at night much easier.
- If your trip is a long one, switch between drivers. Staring at the open road for hours on end can make you drowsy. To avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, switch between drivers every few hours if possible. If you’re driving alone, stop at a rest stop or gas station every couple of hours to stretch your legs and take a break.
- Remember, should your vehicle break down, having some water and snacks on hand to tide you over until help arrives could be a lifesaver.
Check out the following tips for your road trip, including how you pack your car (https://www.travelers.com/resources/auto/travel/car-packing-tips), what to bring in your roadside emergency kit (https://www.travelers.com/resources/auto/travel/what-to-do-if-your-car-breaks-down), and where kids and pets should sit (https://www.travelers.com/resources/auto/safe-driving/keeping-your-passengers-safe-on-the-road). All these valuable tools can help ensure you reach your destination safely.
Author’s note: Tips included from Travelers Insurance, the National Safety Council, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Department of Transportation.