This DOD photo taken by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey H. Kyhl shows sailors from Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, participating in a motorcycle safety class on May 13, 2010.

Vehicle Fatalities Higher Right After Deployments

Analysis of the 4,086 service members who died from vehicle accidents while on active duty from 1998 through 2009 revealed the fatality rate was 52 percent higher in the first 30 days after deployment for personnel who had been in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A new study analyzing the 4,086 deaths of U.S. service members in vehicle accidents while on active duty from Jan. 1, 1998, through Dec. 31, 2009, has found the fatality rate was 52 percent higher in the first 30 days after deployment for personnel who had been in Iraq or Afghanistan. The study is published in the May 2010 issue (vol. 17, no. 5) of Medical Surveillance Monthly Report from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Motor vehicle accident death rates were fairly stable from November through March, sharply increased in April and May, and peaked in the summer, with more accident-related deaths in July (405) and August (392) than any other month.

The study population was all individuals who served on active duty in the active or Reserve component of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps at any time during the surveillance period, using records maintained in the DoD Medical Mortality Registry of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and routinely provided to the Health Surveillance Center.

DoD unit commanders frequently focus their safe driving campaigns on holiday periods and stress motorcycle safety because many service members ride them. While the analysis found 489 vehicle-related deaths occurred during federal holiday periods and the death rate was 45 percent higher during them, the authors said deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 have made military motor vehicle use diverge from civilian patterns, so use and risks "may be less concentrated around federal holiday and summer vacation periods."

"Motor vehicle safety messages should be frequent and persistent — not tied specifically to national holidays," they added. "The risk of a service member dying in a motor vehicle accident is related to many factors including vehicle type and mechanical condition, duration of travel, speed (in general and related to weather, traffic, and road conditions), timing and duration of rest, alcohol consumption, seat belt use, driver characteristics (e.g., experience, distractions, demeanor), and so on. Safety messages should provide specific and practical guidance regarding safe motor vehicle use. Senior leaders and supervisors should lead by example, modeling safe motor vehicle use for their subordinates. Finally, laws, regulations, and guidelines related to motor vehicle safety should be rigidly enforced; violations should be considered serious threats to force health."

As of June 1, 99 accidental fatalities had occurred this year in the Army, with the largest number of these off-duty deaths from accidents in privately owned vehicles: 28 from sedans, 16 from motorcycles, and 11 from other vehicles such as vans, SUVs, mopeds, or all-terrain vehicles. Soldiers are required to take a motorcycle safety course if they want to ride a motorcycle on an Army installation, and the Army has programs pairing new riders with more experienced ones.

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