In Labor Day weekend driving, seconds save lives

Jerry McDermott
435th Air Base Wing safety director

Living in Germany is a fantastic opportunity, but driving a private motor vehicle in Germany can be a challenge. In the KMC, we have more than our share of driving accidents. The following four behaviors are the leading cause of most mishaps: driving too fast, inattentive driving, fatigue or driving under the influence of alcohol.

An American Automobile Association driving instructor has stated that if drivers had one more second to react over 90 percent of all accidents would be prevented. 

Why would anyone speed to get somewhere a few minutes sooner? Traveling 130 kph on the autobahn versus 140 kph will gain six miles or roughly nine minutes over an hour of driving. However, if an emergency situation presents itself, drivers will have given away that precious second and have significantly increased the stopping distance. Speed kills. It’s better to arrive 10 minutes late than not to arrive.

Inattention, without a doubt, takes away at least a second and probably more. In local driving culture, it is vital to pay attention at all times. Driving in Europe is quite a bit different than driving in the U.S. The speed limits are higher, the country roads are narrow and there are many blind spots, all of which require constant attention. There are many things that distract drivers, including conversation, radio, cell phones and scenery. Most of the time drivers get away with inattention, which reinforces the behavior. The problem is if an emergency arises you’ve lost your second and maybe your life. Pay attention 100 percent of the time when operating a vehicle.

Fatigue causes vehicle crashes far too often and is probably the leading cause of vehicle rollovers. If planning a trip, make sure the driver is well rested. During any trip, it’s always good to stop every couple of hours. Take a break, walk around the vehicle and stretch. Drowsy drivers should pull over. Fatigue can definitely take seconds away from reaction time. Unfortunately, too many people think they can handle it and don’t pay enough attention to the dangers of fatigue. I’ve investigated too many private motor vehicle accidents caused by fatigue to know that when the body shuts down drivers can’t control it. Don’t assume you can.  
Alcohol is involved in nearly 50 percent of all traffic accidents. I can’t believe anyone would want to risk a life because they think they can drive while under the influence of alcohol. This truly amazes me. Alcohol will take at least a second away from the ability to react and probably much more. Even worse, alcohol affects good judgment, further elevating the risk of something bad happening. Why would anybody risk lives and a career when there are so many other ways to get home safely? There are many designated driver programs available and in the worst-case scenario there are taxis. I believe people take this unacceptable risk because they think it’s not going to happen to them and it’s inconvenient. It’s not even a good idea to drive even after only having had a single drink. Be responsible. If you’re going to drink, have a plan to get home. Never ever drive drunk.  

Finally, an easy way to gain a second or two of reaction time is to create a margin of safety. Give yourself plenty of room from objects and other drivers. Don’t make driving a competition and race for space; let the other guy have it. Signal your intentions and make others as aware as you can. Obey traffic rules and remember that a margin of safety will allow more reaction time.
We are all very important to the Air Force but more so to our families. Believe me: your life can profoundly change in seconds. Take a second and save a life.