Stay focused to stay safe

Col. Mary Aldrian, 452nd Air Mobility Wing vice commander, works at her desk in the wing headquarters building during the B UTA weekend, Jan. 24. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Crusher)

Col. Mary Aldrian, 452nd Air Mobility Wing vice commander, works at her desk in the wing headquarters building during the B UTA weekend, Jan. 24. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Crusher)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- In August, the base lost one of its reservists in an automobile accident. He was driving home (after being on orders at March) when his car departed the interstate and rolled several times. What happened was tragic and I can only imagine the pain his children, siblings and mother are still facing two months later.

Perhaps even more tragic, there were 28 other U.S. Airmen who died in vehicular and motorcycle accidents so far this year. Each one of those 28 Airmen had families, friends and co-workers who cared about them and are now grieving the loss of a member of our Air Force family.

We must continually remind ourselves to keep focused on safety and use risk management when making decisions. It must be a priority in every aspect of our mission and our private lives. When giving safety briefings, we may begin to feel like a broken record, but if we make even one person think twice about not wearing a seat belt or speeding during a hairpin turn, we have succeeded.

According to the Air Force Safety Center, 15 of the 29 Airmen who died in vehicular accidents this year were motorcycle riders. This is an alarming number, considering how few motorcycle riders there are, as compared to the number of people who drive cars. These fatalities resulted when the riders lost control and departed the roadways. Mr. Jim Moats, 452 AMW's ground safety manager, says many riders simply exceed their ability to control their motorcycles which often results in their striking other vehicles or objects.

All Reserve, Guard and active duty service members are required to complete a basic motorcycle rider course before riding a motorcycle. DOD civilians must also complete the course before riding a motorcycle on base or riding a motorcycle while in duty status.

This spring, Mr. Moats worked with the Air Force Safety Center to bring a rider coach training course to March. Certification in this course enables volunteers from the base to train our own riders. The Wing Safety Office also created a motorcycle safety course on the 50th and 56th Aerial Port Squadron's training area, which means we can hold the required courses right here at March. The Safety Office generally teaches the courses every other month; the schedule is available on the 452 AMW Safety Community of Practice.

In the case of non-motorcycle vehicular accidents, Mr. Moats indicated many of the contributing factors are the same; i.e., alcohol, excessive speed and failure to use seat belts. Distracted driving is another major contributing factor evidenced in recent years. According to the National Highway Transportation Traffic Safety Administration, 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. The University of Utah reports using a cell phone while driving, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.

In the state of California and on all Department of Defense installations, it is against the law to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle. It is also illegal to use a hand-held cell phone at all while driving a government vehicle or a government-furnished rental car, even if you are outside the gates of a base, regardless of the state laws.

Cell phones are not the only cause of distracted driving. Our vehicles present many opportunities to become distracted, whether it's reaching for that dropped french fry, rushing to pick up your kids at school or just being preoccupied with issues at home or at work. The key is to recognize that these distractions exist and to stay focused on what you are doing--driving!

The holiday season is coming up and the Wing Safety Office will soon be launching their winter safety campaign. Although we don't experience snow or ice in most parts of Southern California, our Airmen could be encountering these elements as they travel long distances to visit family in colder climates or when they take a trip up windy Highway 18 for a day of snow play at Big Bear.

Staying safe depends on keeping focused on what you are doing, especially when operating a car or motorcycle. But don't just stay focused on what you are doing; be a good Wingman and pay attention to what your buddies are doing, as well.

Do not let your fellow Airmen get distracted while driving and don't let your fellow Airmen drive while under the influence of alcohol. If you hear your exhausted buddy talking about driving 300 miles late on Sunday night after the long UTA, take action by saying something to him or by letting your first sergeant know.

This takes extra effort and a higher level of awareness of your co-workers, but it is important and it is another way we can take care of our Air Force family and keep our members safe.

Keep up with what's going on at March through the base website, Facebook and Twitter.