This Holiday, the Greatest Threat to Military Personnel are Car Crashes

Washington— Downed helicopters, rocket-propelled grenades, and roadside ambushes remain serious concerns to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. What many soldiers stateside don't realize is that at home, the greatest threat to their lives is much more mundane, but equally or even more dangerous —the private motor vehicle crash.

In fact, America loses the equivalent of one battalion every year to mostly preventable traffic crashes , many of which involve alcohol. Last year, the military lost 310 service members and employees to car crashes alone, a rise of 30 percent from the previous year.

These service members die not for their country, but in spite of our best efforts to protect them.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death nationwide for all people ages 18-34 years old. “Preventing automobile crashes is a top priority for President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mineta,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. “The key to our success lies with convincing young people to buckle up and to not drive impaired.”

As part of the Bush Administration's challenge to all government agencies to reduce work related traffic crashes and injuries, the Pentagon began reviewing traffic statistics for each service.

Statistics show that 284 service members died in private motor vehicle crashes in 2003. Though 82 of those deaths came from crashes involving motorcycles, many deaths were linked simply to impaired driving and the failure to wear safety belts. From 2002 to 2003, deaths from private car crashes rose for the Army, fell for the Marines, and remained stable for the Navy and Air Force.

Concerned about the safety of military personnel on our roadways, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has partnered with Secretary Norman Mineta to reduce the military's traffic crashes by 50 percent across the services during the next two years.

Secretary Rumsfeld has charged the Defense Safety Oversight Council (DSOC) to develop an information system that would provide real-time reporting of mishaps, as well as analysis and strategies for prevention. The Pentagon says that a prototype of the system will be operational by 2005.

DSOC intends to reduce non-combat casualties to 12.5 deaths and 70 injuries per 100,000 personnel per year by 2004—preventing 155 traffic deaths per year.

Military Personnel At High Risk For Impaired Driving

Though all types of people drink and drive, researchers say a common drunk driver is the younger man, aged 18 to 29, who takes risks and is a “sensation seeker”—exactly the kind of person fit for military duty.

Moreover, the military employs large numbers of men aged 18 to 34, which is the age group most likely to be involved in alcohol-related crashes.

While service members might believe they are invincible behind the wheel, many impaired driving fatalities last year involved drivers who had merely drank the legal limit. In fact, more than 15,000 Americans died in crashes last year in which the most impaired driver “blew” a .08 BAC (blood alcohol content)—an intoxication level many service members might underestimate.

Yet, the military has made inroads since the 1980s, when as many as 700 sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and civilian personnel died every year in private automobile crashes. The Marines, for example, now enforce standardized safety belt regulations and teach driver-improvement classes to new recruits, while the Army seeks to identify soldiers who are most inclined to drink and drive, reaching out to them with educational materials and briefings.

In addition to year-round programs, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration encourages bases to be particularly involved during the year-end holiday season, when many impaired driving deaths occur. This year, we are calling upon all members of the military family to take personal responsibility for their safety and that of others on the road. We encourage military service members and employees to designate a sober driver ahead of time, call a taxicab, or arrange to picked up by a friend.

For more information about impaired driving, please visit www.stopimpaireddriving.org and click on the section for Military. Or visit:

Overview of the Armed Service's Impaired Driving Education Plan www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/alcohol/DesignatedDriver/armed1.html

Marine Corps Safety Division


Army Safe Driving Program


Air Force Ground Safety Division


Department of Defense Traffic Safety Policy (PDF)