Commentary by Lt. Col. John Duda
21st Space Wing Safety Office
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The many school districts in Colorado Springs will be providing a 180-day respite for parents beginning Aug. 15, as the kids go back to school. What does that mean for the mighty Knights?
First, be as attentive as you can while operating your vehicle. This means slow down to hurry up. Plan for your travel times to be extended as excited children awaiting school buses and coming home will be darting in and out of traffic and losing situational awareness as they reconnect or connect with friends from school. Any vehicle operator can tell you that timing and tempo, attention to detail, and freedom from distraction are always within your span of control. If common sense and words of wisdom are not enough, consider the facts: distracted driving claimed 5,474 lives on U.S. roadways in 2009 and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.
To help focus on distracted driving, the 21st Space Wing Safety Office conducted 464 vehicle checks last week. They found three people not wearing seat belts and one operator talking on a cell phone while driving. As a reminder, on any federal installation and in Colorado, seat belt usage is mandatory. If your child is under 8 years old, they must be in a booster seat, regardless of height or weight.
Additionally, vehicle operators are required to use a hands-free device if they must stay connected while driving. One good tip is to place the phone in airplane mode while driving. Did you know that using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent? Is the call you receive on your cell phone worth someone’s life?
Please do not text and drive. It is illegal in Colorado and on the Peterson complex and could result in loss of driving privileges. CNBC reported on June 25: “A 2009 experiment with Car and Driver magazine editor Eddie Alterman that took place at a deserted air strip showed that texting while driving had a greater impact on safety than driving drunk. While legally drunk, Alterman’s stopping distance from 70 mph increased by four feet; by contrast, reading an e-mail added 36 feet, and sending a text added 70 feet.” Even at the slower speeds on base, the vehicle operator needs to be eyes front to watch for children darting into traffic — impossible to do while looking down at the phone.
Finally, because we are in the last few weekends of the summer, make sure to pay attention to the road when grabbing those quick trips on a weekend adventure. The rules for my children are no one flails about preparing to exit the vehicle until the vehicle is parked and the engine is turned off.
Remember, you are the most critical asset we have in the 21st Space Wing. We need you for success — mission first, safety always!