Critical Days of Summer week 10: Driving preparedness

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatal car accidents peak in the summer months of July and August. During these months, there is a higher volume of road travel due to greater numbers of inexperienced teenage drivers, vacationing families venturing out on often unfamiliar routes and motorcyclists cruising the roads. Most people are also more apt to head out on a road trip during the beautiful Montana summer season. Additionally, with more road construction, the potential for an unsafe situation increases.

The Air Force has already lost six members this summer due to vehicle accidents; four involved in personal motor vehicles and two involved in motorcycle mishaps. Such tragic losses can be mitigated by having a properly prepared vehicle and by the safe habits and readiness of the operator.

Before heading out on the road ensure your vehicle is in safe working condition.

· Get into the habit of performing serviceability checks on a regular basis. Use the owner's manual for specific guidance.
· Inspect your tires to include the spare. Check tire pressure, tread integrity and look for bulges. Tire blowouts are a common cause of auto accidents and can lead to tragedy.
· Inspect your vehicle's fluid levels to include the motor oil, transmission, brake and power steering fluids, and coolant. Ensure they are at a proper level and in good condition. Top off your windshield washer fluid if necessary.
· Inspect the battery for leaking acid and corroded terminals. Hoses and belts shouldn't appear cracked or kinked; clamps should be tight.
· It is also a good idea to have your vehicle checked by a mechanic before heading out on long trips, as they have the tools and trained eye to detect potential issues.
· Other items to check include the horn, wipers, lights and properly adjusted mirrors. Inspecting a trailer or camper for road worthiness is just as important as the vehicle itself.

A road-worthy vehicle is certainly important for safe travel, but when you consider that most accidents are due to human error, good driving behavior is absolutely critical.

With an estimated 35,200 traffic fatalities in 2013, that of which 90 percent reportedly involved human error, it is imperative that each of us take a moment to examine our personal driving habits.

Do you speed? Exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions can be dangerous. The NHTSA reports that upwards of 30 percent of all traffic fatalities involve speeding. Any time possibly saved by travelling above the speed limit is minimal at best, so is it worth dying for?

Do you wear your seat belt? Fastening your seat belt should be a no-brainer. Wearing your seat belt if involved in an accident can likely save you your life. This fact has been proven beyond doubt, over and over again. Not wearing one is more likely to cost you your life during a wreck.

Do you text while driving? This has become a deadly epidemic. A May 2013, NHTSA report assessed that driver distraction caused 18 percent of fatal accidents. If you absolutely need to use your cell phone, safely pull over first. If you utilize a navigation system, set it prior to placing your vehicle into drive.

Do you drive fatigued? Drowsy drivers are more inclined to have slower reaction times and studies have compared lack of sleep to being impaired with alcohol. Ensure you've had a good night of rest prior to long trips. Schedule frequent rest stops. Consider shift driving with friends and family and pull over if drowsiness is evident.

Are you prone to aggressive driving? The AAA Foundation's annual Traffic Safety Culture Index lists aggressive driving as being "extremely serious." It has factored into various degrees in over half of all traffic fatalities. Most of us get a little annoyed while driving, but if this impatience leads to excess speed, tailgating or weaving in and out of traffic, we are endangering ourselves and others.

Are you mindful of motorcyclists? With the increase in motorcycle use during the season we must be more attentive for the two-wheeler. Ensure that if you ride a bike you don't take any unnecessary risks.

By practicing good driving habits we can significantly decrease the likelihood of injurious or even deadly motorized vehicle accidents. A properly prepared vehicle also helps eliminate mishaps or unwanted delays in our summer travels. Both vehicle readiness and driver reliability are critical components of safe travel for each of us, our families, and other commuters. Drive prepared, arrive safely!