Enjoy summer, but avoid succumbing to season’s top killer

  • Published
  • By Robbie B. Bogard
  • Air Education and Training Command Safety Office

Memorial Day weekend begins our 101 Critical Days of Summer season. Yes, it’s time to enjoy summer vacations and spending time away from the stressors of work. In other words, time to relax.

However, to get to our relaxation zones, many of us will be driving. And driving to our summer destinations safely should concern every one of us as traffic mishaps are the season’s number 1 killer.

According to the National Safety Council, more than 46,000 people died in preventable car crashes in 2022. This represents a rise in the number of fatalities from previous years. Many of these fatalities involved unrestrained, distracted or drunk drivers.

The Air Force has lost 88 servicemembers in automobile and motorcycle mishaps over the last 10 summer periods.

The National Safety Council estimates nearly 470 people in America will die in preventable traffic crashes this Memorial Day weekend alone – from 6 p.m. May 26 to 11:59 p.m. May 29.

“Car travel has the highest fatality rate of any major mode of transportation based on fatalities per passenger mile,” according to Mark Chung, National Safety Council executive vice president of roadway practice. “The reasons for this, particularly over a holiday weekend such as Memorial Day, are impairment from alcohol and/or another substance such as cannabis, as well as distraction and speed. For the safety and well being of yourself, and the people around you, designate a sober driver or arrange alternate transportation, drive distraction-free and slow down.”

What can we do to reduce the number of traffic fatalities?

Buckle up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released an Occupant Protection Traffic Safety report indicating pickup truck drivers and passengers have had the highest percentage of unrestrained fatalities across all vehicle types for nearly 20 years. In 2021, 60 percent of pickup truck drivers and 64 percent of pickup truck passengers killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts. This group continues to be at the forefront of programs to increase seat belt use. Unbelted passenger vehicle occupants don’t fare much better. The number of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes from 2018 to 2021 has increased every year. In 2018, there were 9,545 unrestrained fatalities. In 2021, 11,813 passenger vehicle occupants who died in a crash (45 percent) were not wearing a seat belt. Use sound risk management in your travel plans over the summer.

Don’t Drive Distracted. It’s astounding we even must tell licensed drivers this. What is so important that it cannot wait until your car is parked? According to NHTSA, eight percent of fatal car mishaps are caused by distracted driving, with about 3,000 people being killed because of distracted driving.

Don’t Drive Impaired. Alcohol and/or drugs were involved in 36 percent of Air Force automobile mishaps during the summer period, with 20 percent of Air Force motorcycle mishaps involving drugs and/or alcohol during the same period. How many of these Airmen would be alive today if they had used a designated driver, phoned a taxi, or simply just had a plan how to get home after drinking that did not involve getting behind the wheel impaired?

Engage Your Passengers. Use your passengers as “risk sensors” to aid you in seeing and reacting to hazards. The 101 Critical Days of Summer is a period in which we focus on reducing summertime mishaps. With traffic mishaps continuing to claim the most lives, we all need to exercise sound risk management in our travel plans this summer.