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DoD Task Force Considers Safety Crackdown for Drivers

By Kim Sears
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2006 – Servicemembers could expect stricter consequences for engaging in unsafe behavior behind the wheel if changes suggested by a Defense Department safety task force are implemented.

The Private Motor Vehicle Accident Reduction Task Force is looking at changing how the services handle driving infractions to help reduce the death and accident rates of military men and women when operating their own vehicles and motorcycles.

Maj. Gen. David Bice, inspector general of the Marine Corps and chairman of the task force, said for irresponsible drivers this would mean facing real consequences that could affect personal and professional lives, including losing the ability to be promoted and forfeiting driving privileges on base.

“Much has been done to educate people about what can happen if they are irresponsible behind the wheel. However, there are too many people that hear the message, but don’t heed it,” Bice said. “While education on this issue is still important, the PMV task force believes tightening enforcement practices will be the most effective way to bring about change. We are looking at ways to improve the department’s enforcement system and make it clear the military is serious about safety both on and off the base.”

In a June 22 memorandum, the Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reiterated his directive to reduce all safety-related indicents within DoD by 75 percent by the end of fiscal 2008. The PMV task force is one of eight safety task forces under the Defense Safety Oversight Council, which was created to find ways to meet that goal.

To gain a greater understanding of current law enforcement procedures, the task force began examining how each service handles driving infractions and the maintenance of driving records.

“What we have found are a lot of inconsistencies -- not just between services, but within them as well,” Bice said. “The department lacks a centralized system that allows for the sharing of driving data and sanctions between services and installations. The task force is looking at ways to put such a system in place that also includes information sharing with local (motor vehicle departments). We want to create a commanding-officer environment off base, so troops know they are responsible for their actions no matter where they go.”

John Awtrey, director of law enforcement policy and support at DoD and a member of the task force, said an integrated system would allow law enforcement to draw on comprehensive driving record information, giving installation commanders the ability to make more informed decisions about driving privileges.

“Having integrated electronic data would speed the process for taking positive action against individuals who would still be driving with the current inconsistencies in driving record information and data sharing,” Awtrey said.

The PMV also is evaluating a variety of other factors to determine the best ways to prevent private motor vehicle related deaths and accidents including, driving trends for 18- to 25-year-olds, the top causes of accidents, and leading indicators, or behaviors, that predict who is most susceptible to being involved in an accident.

Renee Reitz, a psychologist overseeing the development of a Driver Behavior Assessment Tool, or DBAT, for DoD, said choice is what links all other variables leading to car crashes. The DBAT is a computerized questionnaire that assesses how servicemembers' personal attitudes and beliefs are related to involvement in vehicle crashes.

“I am a firm believer that choice is the key to safe driving,” said Reitz. “The work of the DBAT research team is focused on pre-identifying servicemembers who are likely to make unsafe driving choices based on the ‘self’ they put behind the wheel. We want to help servicemembers recognize their own tendency to make unsafe choices while driving.”

The task force plans to submit its suggestions to the DSOC, chaired by David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness,, by February.

“We are trying to build on the good work already being done by each of the services so we can preserve our most valuable resource, which is our men and women,” Bice said.

(Kim Sears is assigned to the American Forces Information Service.)

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Maj. Gen. David Bice, USMC

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