Motor vehicle accidents continue to be among the leading causes of fatalities each year across the Air Force, and U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Airmen are not exempt.
Whether commuting to work in Italy, heading out on holiday in the U.K., or driving on the local autobahn in Germany, unfamiliar signage, narrow roadways, high-speed limits, and various other hazards continually pose threats to our safety.
As part of an ongoing effort to maintain awareness of these hazards, the headquarters USAFE – AFAFRICA Safety Staff and subordinate wing safety offices have put together the following list of tips to help you and your families stay safe on local roads throughout your tour.
- Stay alert — Environments change frequently and quickly on European roads. Heavy pedestrian activity, wildlife, wet leaves/roads, and decreased visibility can all wreak havoc on a leisurely drive if you’re not paying attention. Actively watch other drivers and pedestrians around you for cues to their intent and ensure you are always prepared for the unexpected horse in the road.
- Know and follow local laws — Ensure you know the applicable traffic laws and signs for the country you reside in and any countries you may be visiting before you hit the road. Additionally, while you can’t depend on others to signal their intentions when driving, you can certainly control whether or not they have realistic expectations for your actions. Always use your turn signals appropriately when using roundabouts, making lane changes or turning.
- Avoid distraction — There are a multitude of dangerous distractions that drivers need to avoid while operating a vehicle: fiddling with radios, using phones, adjusting GPS systems, eating, sightseeing, and interacting with passengers are just a few examples of the types of distractions that you should take care to avoid when driving.
- Buckle up — Wearing your seat belt is an essential safety tip for drivers. Not only are you more likely to get injured in an accident if you aren’t wearing a seat belt, you can also be fined for failing to do so.
- Obey speed limits — When driving, it’s important to adhere to the posted speed limit at all times. The restrictions placed on vehicle speeds are not established arbitrarily; rather, they are carefully selected to maximize safety for drivers and for individuals in the homes, businesses, and other organizations in the areas where roadways are located. Additionally, it is the driver’s responsibility to reduce speeds below the posted limits when conditions warrant it.
- Share the road — Remember that you are not the only driver on the road, even though the road may only be big enough for one vehicle. Observe priority rules, only pass when it is clearly safe to do so, and recognize that all drivers deserve to be treated with respect. Share the road with others graciously.
- Maintain your vehicles — Take care to ensure that your automobile stays in good working condition to prevent unexpected breakdowns. Perform scheduled maintenance, make certain tires are in good condition, and ensure that the vehicle’s exterior lights are functional at all times. Don’t put yourself or your family into an unsafe situation that could have been avoided with some simple preventative maintenance.
- Don’t drive under the influence — Enjoy your time experiencing the culture of your host nations, but always have a plan if alcohol is part of your activities. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol is never acceptable and can quickly cause unsafe situations for everyone around.
- Plan for flexibility — Issues will frequently crop up that will delay you while driving. Plan extra time into your travel to account for issues such as bad weather, accidents, farm equipment, construction work or even the random horse-drawn cart! Using a little extra precaution can help reduce stress and allow patience in unanticipated situations. Many accidents are the result of impatient drivers who are rushing due to an unforeseen delay. If roads are bad enough, maybe it’s better to just stay home.
Far too many of the vehicle accidents experienced within USAFE- AFAFRICA can be prevented simply by drivers slowing down and taking their time. Know the common hazards, be mentally prepared for changes in the roadway, and slow down so you can safely maneuver your vehicle. Get out and enjoy your local culture, but do so safely. For any questions regarding trends in your local area, contact your installation safety or security forces office.