Buckle Up and Slow Down
SGT. 1ST CLASS WILLIAM BONILLA
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
143rd Military Police Detention Battalion
California Army National Guard
During a deployment to Iraq, my battalion’s primary duty was convoy security. We were stationed at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, and would cross over into Iraq for every mission. Most missions were to Camp Cedar, but we traveled all the way to Mosul occasionally. The trip to Mosul lasted seven to 10 days, as it was 650 miles each way and movement was made mostly at night.
When selected as a driver to Mosul, I always made sure my vehicle’s preventive maintenance checks and services were completed properly and that we had the appropriate gear and equipment for the trip. At that time in my career, I was very lax about wearing my seat belt and would frequently drive over 55 mph because of the high threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). This type of behavior continued throughout my 12-month deployment and, fortunately, I never had a mishap. The unit did have a rollover, however, and the gunner, who was strapped to the harness and unable to get out, died. In my mind, this incident further solidified my stance on not wearing a seat belt because I didn’t want to end up like that gunner.
When I returned to the states, I had difficulty transitioning back to normal driving in my private motor vehicle (PMV). As a result, I racked up numerous traffic tickets within a two-year period, including three for speeding and two others for seat belt infractions. Going through the state-mandated driver training didn’t change my behavior either. I just brushed off the citations. That all changed one rainy day.
I was heading to work and, just by chance, wearing my seat belt. While on the highway, traveling just a bit over the speed limit, I was sideswiped by another vehicle and spun three times. My car finally stopped after striking a retaining wall on the side of the highway. Thanks to my seat belt, I was kept stable in the driver’s seat as my car careened down the road. It also helped me avoid the full impact of the air bag when it deployed.
After this incident, I made it my duty to always buckle up every time I get into a vehicle, whether it be a tactical variety or my PMV. At the time of my close call, my wife and I had three young children. I never considered that something as simple as failing to wear my seat belt could take me away from them. And while speed wasn’t a factor that day, I realized I didn’t have to drive fast to avoid IEDs at home. Getting to a destination as quickly as possible wasn’t as important as arriving safely.
As I’ve climbed the NCO ladder, I’ve shared my story with many younger Soldiers in hopes of helping them avoid the same mistakes I made by encouraging them to always buckle up while deployed and once back at home. I incorporated a policy within my unit that requires any Soldier caught not wearing a seat belt while operating any vehicle — tactical, non-tactical or PMV — to provide a 30-minute presentation on the importance of wearing protective restraints. Soldiers caught speeding are sent to the master driver for an eight-hour refresher driver training course to reinforce the policies put in place by the commander and the U.S. Army. The way I see it, wearing a seat belt or restraint system and reducing speed will increase the likelihood my Soldiers avoid an accident and the possibility of serious injuries. That helps ensure readiness. So buckle up and slow down!
Did You Know?
Remedial Driver Training (RDT) is an eight-hour, instructor-led, classroom-taught course designed to address the root causes of aggressive driving.
- RDT uses the small-group interactive training concept and is behavioral-based.
- The training combines instruction, skits, games, videos, student-instructor interaction and student-to-student interaction to help drivers acknowledge their negative driving habits and attitudes. The goal is to give students a toolkit to change their behavior and decision-making processes behind the wheel.
- RDT provides driver improvement and remedial training for military or civilian personnel convicted of a moving traffic violation or determined to be at fault for a traffic mishap while operating a government motor vehicle.
- Commanders may refer “high-risk” Soldiers to attend the course. Examples of high-risk activities may include:
- The accumulation of five or more traffic points over a 12-month period (Army Regulation 190-5)
- Warning traffic citation(s) for moving and nonmoving infraction(s)
- Letter(s) of counseling or reprimand for driving
- Confirmed witness statements of driving infraction(s)
RDT is currently provided as part of the Army Traffic Safety Training Program via contractor. State-approved driver improvement programs may be used to fulfill the requirement where an Army standardized course is not provided. Unit leaders seeking to obtain RDT training for their Soldiers should contact their garrison safety office or sign up using AIRS at the following link: https://imc.army.mil/airs/default.aspx.