Friday, September 9, 2011

Driving safely saves lives, careers

By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The concrete road is edged with tar and litter around its boundaries, sparsely populated with pot holes and chips in the pavement and wildlife roaming the outskirts of the woods nearby. In the daytime, the sun’s heat ripples off the pavement while the aura of humidity complicates the conditions. In the evening, the moon’s reflection illuminates the long roads otherwise sparingly lit by highway posts and street lamps. When the weather turns inclement, the conditions on the highway become more dangerous. Thunderstorms, violent rains and tornados can make the roads a tumultuous course for even cautious drivers, much less reckless ones.

Despite hazardous conditions and the potential for danger, cars, trucks, vans and other automobiles can be seen careening at alarming speeds in all directions, disregarding traffic signs, rules and etiquette. The operators of these vehicles flagrantly flaunting traffic rules are not only putting themselves in harm’s way, but are also placing unassuming others in danger as well. Drivers failing to drive safely can cause damage, monetary loss, impair a person’s career or, worst case, harm themselves or another.
Driving accidents and incidents are a common problem in Arkansas and can affect the Airmen of Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., said Joe Wooding, 19th Airlift Wing safety specialist. Despite being the 14th least populated state, Arkansas has the sixth most traffic fatalities in the United States.

Although Arkansas ranks high with deadly accidents, and leaders warn their Airmen about driving safely, traffic mishaps remain a common incident on and around the base, said Cefus Benner, 19th Security Forces Squadron supervisory police officer.

“The biggest problem we have as far as what we respond to on base is backing accidents in the BX or Commissary parking lot ... we average four to five a week,” said Benner.

Many of the accidents that happen on base are a case of simple negligence and driving distracted, said Benner.

“People not paying attention is the biggest problem I see,” said Benner. “Whether talking on cell phones without using a hands free device or just not paying attention to what you’re doing.”
Wooding agrees that most of the accidents and mishaps are caused by distractions that could be preventable.

“It could be texting or even eating while driving,” said the safety specialist. “one particular mishap here on base ... somebody hit the barriers up at the main gate at 45 miles per hour, which is 10 miles over the speed limit to begin with, but the cause of that was distraction. We heard three different versions of what distracted the driver. One was that he was choking; two that he was reaching for something on the floor, and the last one was that he was reaching over his seat to eat some of his lunch. Yet either way distracted driving was the cause of the accident.”

Although distracted driving is a common problem, drivers on base need to be particularly considerate of other things such as traffic signs and exit ramps that surround the highway outside of base, said Wooding.

“Every exit ramp out here is different,” said the safety specialist. “They’re not even similar ... nothing is consistent. There are plans to change that, but those plans are a ways down the road.”

Even though the driving conditions on and around base may be unique, Team Little Rock members still need to obey the rules, Benner said.

Driver’s on base need to constantly heed the speed limit, which is 10 mph in parking lots, 15 mph in school zones when the lights are flashing, 25 mph in base housing and 35 mph everywhere else on base, said Benner. All drivers are cautioned to obey the speed limits everywhere, but especially in school zones.

“We will pull people over for going one or two miles per hours over the limit in school zones,” the supervisory police officer said. “There is a zero tolerance there.”

Traffic rules like speed limits are put in place for safety reasons and drivers need to understand that being inconvenienced is no reason to become an aggressive driver, said Benner.

Slow down, calm down and relax, the supervisory police officer said. Additionally people need to be reminded about the consequences of drinking and driving.

“Drinking and driving is bad,” said Benner. “It goes beyond simple negligence and becomes a crime. Drunk drivers are criminals. Getting a DUI can end your career.”

While people have been brow beaten over the consequences of drinking and driving it is important to drive safely all the time, said Wooden. People need to obey traffic laws and understand that drivers have to focus on driving, and not allow themselves to be distracted.

Benner said that although there are many distracting things that can divert people’s attention, the individual needs to take responsibility for obeying the rules of the road.

“Slow down, don’t drink and drive, pay attention to your surroundings, watch out for other drivers and try to be a more defensive driver than offensive driver,” Benner said. “Doing so may prevent an accident, injury or fatality.”

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