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Warren, Mich. - Soldiers returning from battle understand how deadly combat can be. Back on U.S. soil, however, they face a less obvious but equally treacherous enemy - motor vehicle crashes - that kills the equivalent of a company of Soldiers each year.

The U.S. Army and General Motors hope a new safety partnership announced today will help the Army reduce privately owned vehicle (POV) crash fatalities involving servicemen and women by 50 percent by next year. The program includes a video - sponsored by GM - that all Army Soldiers will be required to view by July 4; advanced driver training that can be duplicated on Army bases; and assistance on addressing the major factors contributing to Army POV traffic deaths: lack of safety belt use, impaired driving, fatigue and speed. These tactics will join an aggressive crash-reduction system the Army already is implementing.

The Army-GM program was announced by Army Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Smith, Director of Army Safety and Commanding General, U.S. Army Safety Center; and Robert C. Lange, GM executive director, Structure and Safety Integration. Smith and members of his staff will spend two days touring GM safety facilities; meeting with GM executives, traffic safety experts and military veteran employees; and experiencing GM's advanced driver training program.

"We as leaders are charged with the most awesome task of protecting our most valuable asset - our sons and daughters," said Smith. "After our Soldiers have performed their war-time mission tasks flawlessly for so long, it is natural for them to want to drop their guard while at home here in the states, and travel to visit family and friends. During their travels on the highways, hazardous situations may present themselves to unaware young Soldiers, causing them to react too late and end up in an accident."

"I can't think of a greater way GM can thank the Soldiers who are risking their lives for us than to help keep them safe when they're back home, driving on U.S. roads," said Lange. "Many of the crashes that are claiming these young Soldiers are preventable, and we must do whatever we can to help keep them from occurring."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 202 service members died in POV crashes (not including motorcycles) in fiscal year 2003. Sixty-nine of those were in the Army, where, after steep declines since the 1980s, deaths have been rising since 2000, including a 23-percent increase alone between 2002 and 2003. Fatalities in private and Army vehicles combined make up nearly two-thirds of all Army accidental losses.

Last year Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld challenged all branches of the armed services to cut the rate of preventable accidents and fatalities, including POV traffic deaths, by at least 50 percent by 2005.

The Army Soldier most likely to die in a motor vehicle crash is a male between the ages of 19 and 24 - also a high-risk group in the general population. However, officials are seeing an increase in aggressive- and distracted driving-related fatalities among female Soldiers, according to J.T. Coleman, Command Information Manager, U.S. Army Safety Center. According to the Army, a statistically higher number of crashes occur in the last six to 12 hours of a three-day pass, when a sleep-deprived Soldier who's just spent the last 2 1/2 days celebrating his short-lived freedom may be driving aggressively to get back to base in time for formation.

Furthermore, many Soldiers who've endured a war environment come home feeling invincible. "A Soldier who's survived rocket-propelled grenades and has shrapnel in his body and a Purple Heart doesn't want to hear that he could die if he drives his car too fast or doesn't wear a seat belt," said Coleman.

So take that feeling of invincibility, combine it with a new set of wheels purchased with months of saved-up combat pay, and the casualties can add up.

Another issue, said Coleman, is that more and more new recruits - particularly from lower-income families - are arriving at boot camp without a civilian driver's license. In response, the Army has instituted licensing programs at its installations.

GM's Safe Driving Program, which Smith and his staff will participate in, was developed in 1995 to train employees in collision prevention techniques while promoting an attitude of mutual understanding, courtesy and cooperation on the road. Messages about belt use and the dangers of impaired driving are an integral part of the program.

"Just as we care about our GM family, we care about our servicemen and women. We want them to know that whether they are driving for work or for pleasure, safe driving is a full-time job," said Lange. "We hope to learn from the Army's experiences and welcome the opportunity to share our learnings with the Army as it tackles this issue."

The Army participates in the Click It or Ticket national safety belt use mobilization, an initiative GM has supported as part of its founding membership in the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.

Other Army safety countermeasures include a risk assessment tool called the Army Safety Management Information System - 1 POV. Under this system, all Soldiers planning a trip must participate in a self-assessment process with two levels of leadership that analyzes Soldiers' travel plans and behaviors against an existing database and provides the degree of risk associated with that travel, effective control measures and examples of recent crashes that fit the profile of the trip the Soldier is taking.

This information is provided to the Soldier's first-line supervisor and that supervisor is expected to review this information and discuss the hazards, risks, and control measures with the Soldier. This open exchange of information will help to educate the young, unaware Soldier of the potential hazards that they may encounter on our nation's highways.

"Leader involvement is important," said Coleman, "especially that 'oak tree counseling' at the platoon level, where the platoon sergeant gets everyone under a tree and says, 'Nobody's going anywhere till we talk about what everybody's doing this weekend.

"We want to make this personal," said Coleman. "The first line supervisor lets the Solider know, 'I need you. You're important to me. I want you to get back here safely.'"
 

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This is good news, and a good way to approach it.
I hope this program spreads to all the services, including the Coast Guard. Way too many young soldiers, sailors, and airmen are needlessly killed in auto accidents due to their short window of opportunities to visit family and friends. Pushing those limits have dire consequences!!
 

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I don't get it?
Servicemen/woman are bad drivers and so GM is giving the army funds to train them to be better drivers?? If I was the army I wouldn't be publicizing this!
 

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Does GM (or local dealers) host GM car shows on the military bases? Not in my years of service (69-72) but the bigger bases such as Benning or Knox would offer a captive audience of personnel that are interested in the cars.
Places like these are not situated by large cities where auto shows are given.
 
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