Reducing PMV Fatalities
CAPT. SHAWN UPDEGROVE
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
213th Regional Support Group
Pennsylvania Army National Guard
Private motor vehicle (PMV) safety is a topic that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It might be a small part of a final formation briefing or unit PMV inspections, but rarely does it garner the focus of events such as range operations or tactical convoys. However, a PMV accident can have the same impact on a Soldier’s family and friends, as well as their unit’s morale and readiness, as any on-duty mishap.
I am a traditional National Guardsman, but during the week, I work for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as a special agent/safety investigator. The FMCSA is the lead federal government agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), and our mission is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. I’ve seen the aftermath of a lot of crashes, and the most devastating often involve CMVs. Just about every one of these accidents are life-changing for the individuals involved and their loved ones.
In 2019, 36,096 people died in vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways. Based on the population, that’s 11 deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The chance of a serious or fatal crash increases drastically when a CMV is involved. Also in 2019, there were more than 3.5 million commercial drivers. According to the FMCSA, during this time, there were 181,911 crashes on U.S. roads involving CMVs that resulted in 5,337 fatalities. This equates to a fatality rate of 152 deaths per 100,000 CMV drivers in the United States. That’s not surprising because these vehicles require an additional 63 feet to stop from 55 mph and the amount of CMVs and miles driven has steadily increased annually.
The Army tracks PMV mishaps as a part of accidental ground fatalities. In FY21, 73 Soldiers died in PMV crashes. While this does show Soldiers are less likely than the general population to be killed in a PMV crash, they also drive fewer miles. Many times, these fatalities are totally preventable. I believe this signals a shortfall in some unit-level safety programs. Even though these crashes occur outside of the direct control of the chain of command, the impact on the military community and readiness is far-reaching.
So how can the Army do a better job conveying the importance of PMV safety and sharing the road with CMVs? There are many resources for reducing traffic fatalities from government agencies tasked with highway safety such as the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as state Departments of Transportation and even private nonprofits like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The statistics and materials each of these agencies produce serve as a great way for leaders at all levels to gain additional insight to pass on to our formations.
Internally, the military is combating PMV safety with regulations such as Army Regulation (AR) 190-5, AR 385-10, AR 600-55 and Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 65044.04, just to name a few. For example, DODI 6055.04 regulates initial driver training for younger Soldiers or those with motorcycles. Programs like this place the responsibility on unit leaders to meet with their Soldiers and engage them in conversations that should improve the training requirements within their formations. This training helps commanders reduce the likelihood of having to respond to a serious or fatal accident. Targeting the individuals most likely to be involved in a PMV mishap — Soldiers E-1 through E-4 — also helps ensure success.
In my experience as an FMCSA special agent, highway safety is overlooked by more than just the military community. My co-workers and I are working to ensure every CMV is operated by a safe and licensed operator by regularly conducting company compliance reviews. We also work to ensure the CMVs are safe by conducting roadside inspections. Unfortunately, we can’t catch every violation or stop every unsafe vehicle. I have seen forged documents, companies more concerned with profits than safety, and vehicles that should not be allowed on the road. While these are the minority and certainly don’t represent the entire industry, it is something everyone, including Soldiers, must understand. An accident with another PMV is dangerous and can be catastrophic, but a crash involving a CMV is far more likely to produce fatal results.
Safety campaigns and regulations are wonderful ways of getting information, statistics and resources out to Soldiers. But if front-line leaders don’t take this seriously by implementing these programs and having regular counseling sessions and briefings with their Soldiers, then they are not doing all they can to mitigate this risk. Focusing on reducing PMV traffic fatalities may not seem as important as some of the other challenges the Army faces. However, that may just be the complacency that allowed those 73 Soldiers to die in PMV crashes last year.
Military personnel are highly trained individuals, so the loss of even a single Soldier is detrimental to a unit’s morale and readiness. We are all tasked with protecting one another, so the “I’ve-got-your-6” mentality must extend off duty to help reduce PMV fatalities. Dedication and passion for protecting each other is a common Soldier trait. Let’s utilize this to win the battle with PMV mishaps.
For more information, statistics and downloadable resources to help prevent PMV mishaps, check out the following links: