As downward trends go, the Army’s sustained decline in fatal mishaps in sedans and other four-wheeled private motor vehicles is a good news story for leaders and Soldiers at every level. It hasn’t always been this way — PMV accidents have historically been the Army’s No. 1 killer of Soldiers, and while they still comprise the largest share of our accidental fatalities, far fewer are occurring than even 10 or 15 years ago. While it’s hard to say exactly why, we believe engaged leadership, Soldiers taking personal responsibility for their and their passengers’ safety, and an increased emphasis on driver training have all played a part in this success.
We are continuing to face challenges in some areas, however, including seat belt use. Nationwide, more Americans are regularly wearing seat belts than ever before, and we are confident the Army’s statistics reflect that as well. But some Soldiers, regardless of what we do or how much we emphasize the importance of seat belts, still choose not to wear them. In fact, so far this fiscal year, failure to buckle up has outpaced speed as a primary contributor in fatal privately owned vehicle accidents.
There are any number of excuses both drivers and passengers give for not wearing their seat belts: It’s uncomfortable; it will wrinkle my clothes; I’m only going a short distance; I’ll be better off if my vehicle catches fire or ends up in water; I’m in a big truck or SUV, so I’m already protected. The truth is, every vehicle occupant, regardless of seating position or vehicle size, stands a much greater chance for survival in a crash if they’re buckled up. Modern vehicles are designed with integrated crumple zones and A-frames that protect the people inside — provided they’re wearing seat belts — by absorbing crash forces and allowing survivable space in even the most severe crashes. These features, combined with airbags and other safety technologies like antilock brakes that are becoming standard on more and more cars, trucks and SUVs, are saving lives in accidents that would have proven fatal in the not-too-distant past.
Safety engineering does nothing for a driver or passenger ejected in an otherwise survivable crash, though. And individual vehicle occupants owe it not only to themselves, but everyone they’re riding with to buckle up as well. Unrestrained passengers, even those in the back seat, are helpless against the laws of physics and can become deadly projectiles during an accident.