Vehicle Crashes Drive Off-duty Summer Fatalities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 10, 2009 Four servicemembers died in off-duty accidents Labor Day weekend, bringing to 95 the number killed during the summer season that kicked off Memorial Day weekend, safety officials reported.
Two soldiers, a sailor and an airman died in vehicle accidents during the Labor Day weekend, which marked the unofficial end of summer that, historically, sees a spike in vehicular and recreational accidents.
Twenty fewer servicemembers died compared to last year, with Army, Navy and Marine Corps officials all reporting fewer off-duty fatalities.
But just as in 2008, car, truck and motorcycle accidents continued to take the heaviest toll across the board.
The Army reported 40 off-duty fatalities this summer, down from 61 last year. Fifteen of the soldiers died on motorcycles, compared to 24 last year.
Jim Yonts, director of strategic communication at the Army Combat Readiness and Safety Center, said he’s pleased by the decrease, but cautioned against declaring a trend.
“While we show positive results in many safety areas, we cannot allow ourselves to be seduced by positive statistics,” Yonts said. “Engaged leadership, peers and families, in conjunction with soldiers taking responsibility for their own Band of Brothers and Sisters’ safety, is paramount to drive down accidental off-duty losses.”
The Navy reported 20 fatalities between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, down from last year’s 32. Marine Corps off-duty deaths also dropped, from 20 last year to 13 this year.
Six of the sailors, including one who died Sept. 5, were killed in single-vehicle wrecks. Two died in multiple-vehicle accidents and five on motorcycles, according to April Phillips, public affairs officer for the Naval Safety Center.
Phillips attributed the trend to the new Military Sportbike Rider Course instituted after fatal crashes among these riders spiked last year. The new instruction also requires refresher training for all motorcyclists every three years to keep their skills current.
“The increased emphasis on motorcycle safety and compliance with regulation, up and down the chain of command, has really made an impact,” Phillips said.
The Air Force was the only service to see an increase in off-duty fatalities between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, 22 compared to last year’s 17.
Five of the airmen were killed on motorcycles. Thirteen, including the one killed during the Labor Day weekend, died in four-wheeled-vehicle accidents, reported Paul Carlisle, deputy chief of the Air Force Safety Center’s ground safety office.
Last year, 115 servicemembers died in off-duty accidents between the Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.
To reduce those statistics this year, the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard launched a joint summer safety campaign before Memorial Day. Safety chiefs emphasized the importance of everyone – servicemembers, civilians and family members alike – to make the campaign a success.