This June marks the 25th anniversary of National Safety Month, and it comes at a time when mishaps are on the rise across the Army.
The 71 Soldier mishap fatalities recorded thus far in fiscal 2021 represent a 29 percent increase from the same time frame last fiscal year. Even accounting for the impact of COVID-19 restrictions in place much of the last 15 months, current year-to-date fatality totals are already higher than fiscals 2015-2017, when training was unhampered by factors like social distancing and Soldiers had greater freedom to travel.
“We’re not completely certain what’s driving this rise in mishaps and fatalities,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew C. Hilmes, commanding general, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center and director of Army Safety. “What we can confidently say is leaders and Soldiers should be aware of and taking the proper steps to mitigate risk both on and off duty, especially as we return to a more normal operating environment and personal leaves ramp up through summer.”
Summer is the Army’s deadliest time of year for mishaps, with ground on-duty fatalities typically peaking in June and off-duty fatalities in July and August. Between fiscals 2011-2020, 42 Soldiers died in ground on-duty mishaps during June, an average of just over four fatalities annually. However, some years were deadlier than others, with seven Soldiers killed during June 2014 and 10 in June 2016.
A recent USACRC study conclusively determined tactical vehicle mishaps increased sharply during the third quarters of the past few fiscal years, a phenomenon now known as the “third-quarter spike.”
“The vast majority of those June fatalities occurred in tactical vehicles, with some resulting in multiple deaths,” Hilmes said. “Our study showed nearly one-third of the Army’s tactical vehicle mishaps are happening during May and June alone, even though we historically drive exponentially more miles later in summer.”
Over the past decade, 214 Soldiers died in off-duty mishaps during July and August, averaging out to about 21 fatalities per year. Last July, however, the Army recorded only one off-duty mishap fatality.
“Last year’s off-duty statistics really highlight the effects of the pandemic’s stop-movement orders. We had one of our safest years ever in fiscal 2020,” said USACRC Command Sgt. Maj. William L. Gardner II. “But as restrictions have eased across the Army these past few months, we’ve seen a big increase in private motor vehicle mishaps. More Soldiers are traveling for leisure purposes than before, with many trying to make up for ‘lost time,’ and leaders must be acutely aware of this increased risk environment before they sign off on summer leaves and passes.”
One other factor that concerns both Hilmes and Gardner is escalating fuel prices, which might make motorcycles a more attractive option for Soldiers regardless of riding experience.
“A study recently published in Transportation Engineering, an academic journal, found that for every dollar increase in gas prices in the United States, motorcycle fatalities increase nearly 25 percent,” Hilmes explained. “While we haven’t yet parsed our data to that level, Army off-duty mishap trends generally reflect that of the American public. The recent hikes in gas prices, which will only keep going up through summer, are an important talking point for leaders in relation to off-duty safety and training requirements for new riders.”
The USACRC released several tools this spring targeting both on- and off-duty summer hazards. A third-quarter spike communications campaign is available at https://safety.army.mil/3QS-Campaign, and updated iterations of the Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation and seasonal summer safety campaign are online at https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/Home-and-Family/Off-Duty-Safety-Awareness-Presentation-2021 and https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Seasonal-Safety-Campaigns/Summer-Safety-2021, respectively.
“Our website is a goldmine of resources for leaders and safety personnel,” Gardner said. “Engagement is key to managing risk, and we’ve provided the tools that open the door for hard conversations about personal safety and responsibility. Leaders taking that first step with their Soldiers through formal or informal counseling will save lives.”
Up next is an updated fourth-quarter manned aviation spike communications campaign, scheduled for release in mid-June.
“Over the past five or six years, manned aviation mishaps tended to rise abruptly during the fourth quarter,” Hilmes said. “We released the initial fourth-quarter spike campaign last year, and leaders and crews drove Class A mishaps to nearly zero, with only one recorded for the entire quarter. The fourth-quarter spike could become a thing of the past if this year is also a success, and National Safety Month is the perfect time to start planning for what’s ahead.”
For more information on the Army Safety Program, visit https://safety.army.mil.