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Vehicle safety and awareness show improvement in Iraq

By Sgt. Michael J. Carden

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Army News Service, April 5, 2005) -- From October 2004 to January 2005, Coalition forces in Iraq suffered 48 troop fatalities due to military-vehicle related accidents.

This is nearly half the number of troops that were lost during the entire 2004 fiscal year, according to Multi-National Corps - Iraq safety reports.

After analysis and investigation, the MNC-I safety office has determined that more than half of the total accident fatalities that have occurred in Iraq are vehicle-related. Of those, 66 percent were vehicle rollovers.

Since February, the MNC-I safety office has noticed a considerable decrease in rollover accidents and a decrease in total vehicle accidents and fatalities, said David Martin, safety manager, MNC-I safety office.

The safety office attributes this decrease to the institution of the safety stand-down program, which requires newly deployed units to hold a safety stand-down day within 30 days of assuming authority for an area.

"The safety stand-down reinforces the basics of vehicle safety and awareness by practicing rehearsals such as convoy briefs and rollover drills," Martin said. "I think the safety stand-downs, better risk management and previous accident (statistics) have opened Soldiers' eyes. They're paying more attention to detail now."

Extra attention was evident in two separate rollover accidents that occurred in March. The troops involved sustained only minor injuries in accidents that could have easily been fatal, Martin said.

In the first incident, there were five Soldiers in an up-armored Humvee. The second incident involved three troops. After interviewing the troops and investigating the incidents, the MNC-I safety office learned that both convoys rehearsed and received rollover drill procedures and precautions. They were familiar with their vehicles and aware of the terrain they were traveling, Martin said.

"Units are doing the right thing," Martin said. "They're making sure they go over rollover drills, safety and threat awareness. They're making sure that every Soldier in their vehicles know what to do during any situation. They've even been practicing egress of the vehicle after a rollover, and it's shown."

"If the Soldiers rehearse the rollover drills, in the event of a rollover, they're much more likely to survive," Martin said. "Getting the gunner back inside the vehicle, bracing yourself during a rollover and wearing your seat belt may all be deciding factors in the severity of any injuries."

There are many contributing factors in sustaining vehicle safety that troops should be aware of when participating in convoy movements. Negligent discharges is one item that Martin said shouldn't even be an issue."There's nothing accidental about a negligent discharge," Martin said. "It's simply a lack of situational awareness."

Another factor is that troops may not be aware of the significant increase in the weight an up-armored Humvee gains with the addition of protective armor.

During investigations of past accidents, Martin and his team have found that the up-armored Humvees are considerably heavier than the soft-skinned Humvees Soldiers were accustomed to driving in garrison. Humvees become top-heavy.

"When the armor is added, the Humvee's balance and characteristics are changed dramatically," Martin said. "Soldiers have to take the added weight into consideration."

Because of the added weight, up-armored vehicle drivers are more likely to lose control and roll the vehicle. Speed also plays a major role in maintaining control.

"In a convoy, if a vehicle falls behind the vehicle in front of it, the driver tends to increase his speed to catch up," Martin said. "He may find himself too close to the vehicle and possibly jerk the wheel too hard. This may cause him to swerve off of the road."

"Do you want to drive 50 miles per hour down a two lane road with heavy traffic and have the vehicles in the convoy constantly trying to catch up, or do you want to slow down to 40 or 45 miles per hour so the convoy can stay together?" Martin asked. "If you keep the speed to a minimum, you can safely negotiate the situation."

On roads with many pot-holes, Humvee drivers may have to maneuver around them. They must be cautious of their speed. They may also encounter narrow roads or be attacked, which could cause them to lose control of their vehicle, said Marine Cpl. Chris Pearo.

Pearo is an up-armored Humvee driver for the Multi-National Corps - Iraq resource and sustainment operations security team. He participates in several convoys each week. Every morning Pearo conducts a standard safety check of his Humvee, making sure his fire extinguishers, safety belts and doors are all working properly.

Before each mission, his convoy commander gives a thorough convoy brief, explaining the terrain, route and what the troops should do in unsafe situations, he said.

"Safety is paramount," Pearo said. "Before every convoy, we discuss safety procedures, making us more aware and prepared. Every time we go out, we're alert to the possibilities of a rollover and what may cause an accident."

"You've always got to be cautious when driving a Humvee," Pearo said. "It's not like driving your car. It's top-heavy. It's worse than a (sport utility vehicle). If you jerk the wheel too hard, all you have to be going is 35 or 40 miles per hour to flip the vehicle."

Pearo said his main concern while driving is the safety of his passengers. They are his motivation to always maintain a safety-conscious attitude.

"As a driver, you have to remember that you're not the only person in the vehicle," Pearo said. "If something happens, you'll have to live with that mistake for the rest of your life."

"Every time we lose a Soldier to an accident it depletes our combat readiness," Martin said. "We need every Soldier to successfully complete our mission here. It's our responsibility to protect our force and maintain our combat power."

Although units and troops practice vehicle safety and rehearse situational drills, that may not be enough. Martin troops must use their own common sense and know-how to maintain vehicle safety and awareness.

"Safety is all about using common sense. We have the guidelines, rules, policies and procedures in place," Martin said. "We understand those things, but you still have to apply common sense. That can be the difference in having an accident or safely completing the mission." OCPA Public Affairs Home OCPA Public Affairs Home


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