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Overriding Safety

Overriding Safety

40th Infantry Division
California Army National Guard
Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, California

A seat belt is the most critical piece of equipment to prevent injuries or death in the event of a vehicle accident, yet it is also the most overlooked. I have worked on this installation for more than a decade and can attest to the attitude and negligence toward seat belt usage. Both green suiters and civilian staff will drive unbuckled due to “short travel time” or the claim that seat belts “get in the way” when they have to get in and out of their vehicle multiple times. This rationale is a recipe for disaster, as evidenced by the mishap below.

I was working with the installation provost marshal office when it was brought to our attention that several non-tactical and state civil service vehicles were equipped with devices that silence a vehicle’s seat belt alarm when inserted into the buckle. With the help of the garrison commander, an email was sent to all employees to abstain from using these devices on any vehicle on the installation. The initial response was positive, and we saw the green suiters react swiftly. The civilian employees were less enthusiastic, but most complied. However, we still had a few that would insert the device when driving but remove it when they left the vehicle. This made identification challenging because nothing was left to be found when we’d conduct after-hours vehicle checks.

Fast forward two weeks and I received a call informing me that a vehicle overturned on a gravel road in a training area west of cantonment. I arrived on the scene to find that a state worker flipped his truck on a straight road and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. As we waited for medical personnel to arrive, I spoke with the driver. Not only was he unbuckled, but he had also used the device to override the seat belt alarm. He’d been ejected during the mishap sequence and was lucky the vehicle didn’t roll on top of him.

The cause of the crash was later determined to be distracted driving. The civilian was responding to a text, veered right and then overcorrected, causing the truck to overturn and eject him from the cab. After the crash, he tried to file a workers’ compensation claim to cover his medical bills. Upon review of statements made to military police and me at the accident scene, it was determined his story didn’t line up with what he told medical officials at the hospital or the medical staff on post.

Following an investigation, the civilian was fired. In addition to driving while unbuckled, he attempted to lie about his use of the seat belt override device. He had received all emails regarding the commander’s warnings about the device and still chose to use it.

While the civilian lost his job, at least he didn’t lose his life. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S. and using a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 60%. This incident struck a nerve with all employees on post and prompted more battle buddy checks for seat belt usage. In the end, it helped the installation become a safer place for all.

  • 30 July 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 311
  • Comments: 0