Cover: Understanding and Reducing Off-Duty Vehicle Crashes Among Military Personnel

Understanding and Reducing Off-Duty Vehicle Crashes Among Military Personnel

Published Sep 21, 2010

by Liisa Ecola, Rebecca L. Collins, Elisa Eiseman


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The authors review traffic safety in the United States, with specific reference to military personnel, focusing on safety interventions and attempts to change driver behavior and decisions. Overall, driving has become safer over the last 20 years: A variety of factors seem to have contributed to this increased safety — better vehicle safety features, better road safety features, decreases in teenage drunk driving, more seat belt use, and at least recently, fewer vehicle miles traveled. In contrast, motorcycle riding, a topic of particular interest to the military, is becoming more dangerous. The main difference between the military and civilian population is the proportion of military crash fatalities on motorcycles — the U.S. rate is currently about 15 percent of fatalities, while in some military branches the rate is on average 35–40 percent. This review shows that the following safety interventions tend to help in the reduction of vehicle crashes and that some in particular may be useful in the military setting: (1) better enforcement of underage drinking laws and continuation of alcohol deglamorization campaigns (DoD regulations exist, but underage drinking seems to be relatively common); (2) high-visibility enforcement techniques for sobriety checkpoints; (3) high-visibility enforcement techniques for seat belt use; (4) adoption of a lower blood alcohol concentration level (such as 0.05) for motorcyclists, since the evidence shows that motorcyclists' ability to drive safely begins declining at lower levels than those for car drivers; (5) screening — perhaps as part of military medical assessment — and brief intervention with a trained counselor for at-risk drinkers, since they are at higher risk for drinking and driving; (6) media campaigns that are paired with community activities that also emphasize driver safety, such as workshops or fairs and with enforcement of driving regulations, and targeted at the drivers at highest risk (men in their teens and early 20s); (7) requirements that motorcyclists be licensed and own their vehicles.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Defense Safety Oversight Council. The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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