DoD Mobilizes for Seat Belt Safety Campaign
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2002 -- It is a tragic and chilling fact: the U.S. military loses the equivalent of a battalion of troops each year - not in combat, but in automobile accidents, transportation safety officials said at a news conference Nov. 25.
Jeffrey W. Runge, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that this fact should "resonate with every American."
"The nation cannot afford to lose a battalion of our finest young people at this critical time in our nation's history when we need them the most," Runge said, speaking at the Marine Corps Barracks, here.
"With the nation's attention riveted on homeland security like never before, young service men and women who put their lives on line every day to protect our country and to protect our way of life must protect themselves by wearing their safety belt," he added.
Runge joined Marine Corps' Assistant Commandant Gen. William Nyland and a host of law enforcement and transportation officials to kickoff DoD's plan to increase seatbelt use among military members.
Operation ABC Mobilization/Click It or Ticket is a partnership with the armed forces to step up awareness and enforcement of seatbelt laws on military installations around the country.
DoD statistics reveal that in fiscal 2002, there were 310 fatalities among military personnel in motor vehicle crashes, compared with 237 fiscal 2001.
Fiscal 2002 was the highest motor vehicle fatality rate for military personnel in at least four years, with the Marine Corps experiencing an especially high death rate compared to the other services.
There were 25 Marines killed in motor vehicle crashes in fiscal 2001 and 46 in fiscal 2002; of those, well over half were not wearing seat belts.
The issue of vehicle and seatbelts safety in the armed forces has reached the desk of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who must submit a report to the congressional defense committees within 90 days. That report will summarize personal motor vehicle safety statistics of each service for the last five fiscal years and outline plans of each service to increase efforts to reduce the level of deaths and injuries suffered by its personnel from motor vehicle accidents.
"We are losing more men and women to vehicle crashes than we are to combat and training combined. Now that's incredible when you think of the dangers they are exposed to on a daily basis," Nyland said, adding that the Marine Corps will "crack down" on those who fail to buckle up.
"We don't intend to leave our young men and women on any battlefields, similarly we don't intend to, or don't want to leave them on the highways of this great nation."
Nyland said the Marine Corps is working with the Airbag and Seatbelt Safety Campaign as well as the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to mobilize bases around the nation to participate in the Click it or Ticket campaign.
"What we know we can pinpoint is seatbelt usage," Nyland said. "That's what we are going after, to make sure they wear them not only on the installations but when they leave the installation."
More than 12,000 law enforcement officers in 50 states have joined the national seatbelt safety program by stepping up the enforcement of seatbelt laws. Depending upon the jurisdiction, fines for not wearing seatbelts range from $15 to $86 plus court cost.
Chuck Hurley, vice president of transportation at the National Safety Council and executive director of the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign, said the strategy for the mobilization is to pass strong seat belt laws and to enforce them in a highly visible way.
Hurley said that recent mobilizations are credited with helping increase the national seatbelt use rate to 75 percent. Hurley added that translates into 39 million more Americans buckled up and 3,780 lives per year being saved.