Labor Day marked the official end to the 101 Critical Days of Summer, the period between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day that typically sees a spike in vehicular and recreational accidents.
“It’s the time when more people get outside and enjoy off-duty activities and more people are traveling,” said John Seibert, the Defense Department’s assistant for safety, health and fire. “But unfortunately, it’s also a time when we see more accidents.”
The Navy and Marine Corps reported the first Labor Day weekend in five years with no off-duty fatalities, said April Phillips from the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, Va.
But the Army and Air Force weren’t so fortunate.
Four airmen died during the Labor Day weekend: one on a motorcycle, two in a hit-and-run incident and one from injuries suffered in a previous accident, said Jewell Hicks from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
In addition, one soldier died in a privately owned vehicle during the weekend, reported Terri Helus from the Army’s Combat Readiness and Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Motor vehicles remained the No. 1 cause of off-duty military deaths throughout the 101 Critical Days of Summer, despite broad safety awareness efforts, officials reported.
Motorcycles were the biggest culprits, claiming 50 lives militarywide. Another 38 servicemembers died this summer in cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans, bringing to 88 the number killed in private motor accidents.
Last year, by comparison, 77 servicemen and –women died in private motor accidents between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
The Army reported 50 off-duty fatalities during the 101 Critical Days, with 43 of them involving privately owned vehicles, reported Terri Helus from the Army’s Combat Readiness and Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. That’s a 48 percent increase since last summer.
Twenty of the private-vehicle fatalities involved motorcycles, up 18 percent from the same period last year, Helus said. But the bigger jump occurred in sedans, with 13 summer fatalities representing a 63 percent increase over the eight deaths in 2007.
The one positive statistic for the Army was a big drop in water-related fatalities. Three soldiers died this summer while swimming, fishing and boating, down from nine last year, Helus said.
In the Navy, seven of the 29 sailors who died in off-duty accidents since May 23 were involved in four-wheeled vehicle accidents, but 14 died on motorcycles, according to Naval Safety Center statistics.
The Marine Corps reported 20 off-duty losses since the 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign launched. Five of the Marines died in four-wheeled vehicle accidents, and 11 were killed on motorcycles.
The Air Force reported 16 off-duty deaths since Memorial Day, three fewer than last year and far fewer than the past 10-year average of 24, said Jewell Hicks from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Of the 16 fatalities since Memorial Day, six involved automobiles, five involved motorcycles and four were related to sports and recreational accidents. Another airman was killed when the vehicle he was working on fell on him, Hicks reported.
Officials expressed hope that increased emphasis on motorcycle safety will help bring down motorcycle fatalities in the future.
“If you took out the motorcycle numbers [from the Navy and Marine Corps fatalities], we had a really, really good summer, safetywise,” said Phillips. “We’re obviously making really good strides in terms of recreational and four-wheeled private vehicles. Now that we are hitting motorcycle safety hard, we hope to see that have an effect next year, and that the positive trend will follow suit.”
In addition to requiring motorcycle safety courses for all military riders, the services also are promoting specialized training for those who ride high-performance motorcycles.
Phillips expressed hope that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Military Sport Bike Course, now mandatory for all sailors who ride sport bikes, will have an impact. She noted that 94 percent of the Navy’s motorcycle fatalities involved high-performance sports bikes.
The course also is being offered at a growing number of Army, Air Force and Marine Corps bases.