101 critical days of summer

Lt. Col. Bridget Gregory
435th Aerospace Medical Squadron

***image1***It’s Memorial Day weekend and that means people will be hitting the road to travel. This also means the 101 Critical Days of Summer are upon us, and it’s time, again, to pay particular attention to safety.

Vehicle safety is a familiar theme. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death, and their wicked predilection for the young is daunting. MVCs in the U.S. claim more than 40,000 lives each year. Highway crashes consume three percent of all U.S. medical spending; about 14 percent of medical spending is spent on crash victims 15 to 24 years of age. 

Highway fatalities are the leading cause of death among the employed. MVCs are responsible for more deaths to the young (ages 15 to 29) than any other cause. Several factors are associated with fatal MVCs including young driver and male driver involvement. By virtue of these three risk factors (employed, youth, gender), our nation’s mostly young and predominantly male military population is at particular risk for fatal MVCs.  In fact, MVCs are the leading cause of non-battle related death among military members.

In 2001, I conducted a study to quantify and compare factors of motor vehicle crashes that severely injured or killed 950 U.S. Air Force personnel over a 12-year period. During those years, 840 USAF personnel − drivers, passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians − lost their lives and 110 were permanently disabled in MVCs.

A very positive finding from the study was that vehicle crash fatality among Air Force personnel was about half of the U.S. general population. Below are the study’s most significant findings and prevention opportunities. All are still 100 percent relevant today.

• 40 percent of MVCs involved at least one impaired driver.
• A U.S. Air Force member was primarily responsible for 78 percent of the crashes. Most were single vehicle crashes.
• At least 23 percent of study personnel were intoxicated.
• 32 percent of study personnel had non-zero blood alcohol levels; 46 percent of personnel killed or permanently disabled in a car (motorcycles excluded) were non-sober at crash; 29 percent of motorcycle operators were non-sober.
• Among 36 pedestrians killed or permanently disabled, 42 percent were non-sober.  
• Males were four times more at risk than females.
• When impairment was a factor in car events (motorcycles excluded): speeding was three times more likely; an unbuckled seat belt was nearly twice as likely; when impairment was involved in motorcycle events, no helmet was almost three times as likely.
• Among MVCs with multiple occupants, 3/4 of the time the operator’s blood alcohol content was greater than at least one of the other passengers tested. In 1/4 of these events at least one passenger had zero BAC.  

• 39 percent of events involved speeding or traveling too fast for conditions.
• Speeding was nearly twice as likely in MVCs where an Airman was responsible.
• Speeding was greater than four times more likely when impairment was also a factor.

Day and time
• 43 percent of fatal and permanently disabling MVCs occurred on weekends.
• The 48-hour period between noon Friday and 11:59 a.m. Sunday was deadliest: 46 percent of events occurred during this time; when impairment was a factor, speeding was four times as likely;  impairment was 83 percent more likely a co-factor in motorcycle events; impairment was three times more likely a co-factor in car events (motorcycles excluded).

• Fatigue was a factor in 19 percernt of MVCs; three percent of those involved a motorcycle.  
• Fatigue was associated with weekends, nighttime, and alcohol consumption: 33 percent more likely between 9 p.m. and 5:59 a.m.; 42 percent more likely between noon Friday and 11:59 a.m. Sunday; At least 30 percent more likely if alcohol was consumed earlier (even if zero BAC at the time of crash).

Occupant protection
• 41 percent of Airmen were not restrained; personnel under 26 were at 5.5 times greater risk to be unrestrained compared to 26 and older; males were twice as likely to be unrestrained than females.
• No restraint was four times higher among the non-sober than those with zero BAC; twice as likely when speeding was also a factor; twice as likely between noon Friday and 11:59 a.m. Sunday.  

• 19 percent of MVC fatalities were motorcyclists.
• The USAF motorcyclist fatality rate was about twice the comparable U.S. rate.
• Those under 26 years of age are at three times greater risk compared to 26 years and older.
• Most common motorcycle MVC factors: excessive speed; impairment; unseen motorcycle; no helmet and inexperience.
Bottom lines − familiar messages
• Always wear a safety belt and motorcycle helmet.
• Plan and lock in a sober ride before choosing to drink.
• Alcohol use, improper/no buckling, speeding and fatigue go together – plan and lock in a sober ride first.
• Noon Friday to noon Sunday and all evenings are the most risky times.
• Do not drive during the time of day or night that you normally wind down and go to sleep – you will do that on the road. Drive fresh and when possible, change drivers often.
• Swerving to avoid an animal may cause a much more severe accident than hitting the animal.
• Beware of,  or don’t be,  an intoxicated pedestrian – plan a sober ride.
• Take advantage of all safe-driving initiatives for motorcyclists, particularly for the most inexperienced operators.
• Most unseen motorcyclist events involve either turning in front of or failing to yield to a motorcyclist.