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November 28, 2006

Navy Safety Center

The Navy Safety Center (NSS) is the gestapo equivalent of safety management. I don't pay much attention to them because the weekly harangue of motorcycle safety enforcement has numbed me to the point of apathy. How many times do I need to hear about wearing a gay refelctive vest while I ride? But I digress.

I sent the following letter to NSS and it is self-explanatory as to my intent.

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Research the people, not their actions.
STS1(SS) Greg Smith

I am writing in response to the article by Jack Dorsey, Off-Base Crashes Proving A Safety Issue For Sailors (Virginian-Pilot, Oct 18, 2006). After reading the consequences for various vehicular infractions- getting a ticket before a holiday weekend (mandatory prepackaging of personal items to send to next of kin), going 1 mph over the posted speed limit (loss of driving privileges for 45 days), and demotions/fines- and analyzing the current social dynamics of military members, it is easy to see why people speed off base.

The instinctive reaction to counter rising traffic fatalities is to impose harsher rules, more stringent enforcement policies, and more awareness of the rules and policies as preventative measures to reduce the number of traffic infractions. It is painfully obvious that these methods are not the most effective means of deterrence. The Naval Safety Center, Commanding Officers, Chiefs, and other sailors are scratching their heads wondering how to counter this deadly trend of vehicular deaths. I brainstormed and came up with some policies that might curb the increased traffic fatalities but they would be just as ineffective. I believe the answer lies not in finding more policies and rules but in finding the tipping point- the break in an epidemic.

The following paragraphs serve to correlate the growing problem of Sailor/Marine deaths and current societal problems and although they appear to have obvious answers perhaps they are the types of questions people need to be asking. The military is a reflection of America insomuch that it suffers the same problems. Can we “fix” our sailors and marines if they are subject to the same epidemics as their civilian counterparts?

Does Hollywood contribute to the increased speeding problem?
Could there be a link between the movie The Fast and the Furious and similar street racing movies and the rise in off-base traffic fatalities? I am not suggesting the Naval Safety Center should put pressure on Hollywood but perhaps some targeted research could yield some quantifiable data other than “67% of all off base traffic fatalities occur at night.”

Do motorists speed to make up for lost time or even speed out of frustration when they leave the harsh base-imposed limits behind?
On the Naval base in Norfolk, a reasonable person can assume that if driving 1 MPH over the speed limit will result in loss of driving privileges, that most motorists are driving 1 or 2 miles per hour under posted speed limits while on base to play it safe. The main gate exit then turns into a Grand Prix starting line. Kaneohe Marine Corps Barracks, Hawaii has a similar problem and local police stage “military appreciation days” outside the gate just around the first bend.

Is there a correlation between tight base security and off base alcohol related incidents? Sailors go to base clubs because the alcohol is cheap, they are in close proximity to the barracks, and, before September 11, non military were allowed on base with little or no extra security measures required. I remember Club Pearl was full of non military women on Friday and Saturday nights. After September 11 security measures were stepped up on base and the restrictions make it hard for non military personnel to attend the base clubs. Sailors will go where the women are; if they aren’t frequenting the base clubs then they will go off base. It would be criminally negligent of bases to dismiss their security measures for the sake of increasing the girl to guy ratio in base clubs but maybe some research should be directed at what can be done.

There are pages and pages of traffic statistics on the NSS website but it doesn’t appear that any of the statistics are being used to tackle the real problem of reducing the annual deaths. It is going to take more than statistical analysis of who, what, when and where if the problem of alcohol related incidents and off base speeding is to be solved. The NSS statisticians have done an excellent job of identifying who is at risk but some hard-line social analysis must be conducted to determine why the sailors have such blatant disregard for their own safety or the safety of others- a blatant disregard despite the amount of time and resources dedicated to awareness, despite the harsh punishments, despite the inept policies and procedures already in place.

There may not be a solution to the growing trend of Sailor/Marine vehicular accidents and deaths. In the end it comes down to changing a person’s attitude and if harsh punishments and force-fed safety training is not helping then perhaps different tactics need to be researched. Instead of producing meaningless statistics, like young Sailors and Marines who get drunk are more at risk of getting killed in a car accident, research the people and not their actions.

1 comment:

  1. I recently received a response from the NSS and after taking pause I would have to agree with the last statement concerning the acceptabiility of drunk driving.

    I am not saying that people condone a drunk T-boning a short bus, but generally speaking people will drive home after having had a few drinks. People know the laws and the dangers but make no prior plans to get home without driving.

    Here is the response:

    Not sure if anyone got back to you about this. I read it with interest, and appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. Big picture, the Safety Center is working to increase its analysis capabilities, which are admittedly slim. I agree that statistics aren't really analysis. Certainly Navy and Marine Corps drivers reflect American society, where, as near as I can tell, nearly everyone speeds all the time (at least on the highways). In response to your question number one, I am sure films are a factor, as are car ads that glorify speeding (I love the current one about the guy in Germany who says that it isn't that he didn't find a car in Germany that he liked, it was that he couldn't find a speed limit in America that he liked). And I still think, in spite of harsher DUI laws and MADD, American society as a whole still accepts drunk driving. If not, there would be roadblocks on Atlantic Avenue every weekend all year round. -DN

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