ARLINGTON, Va. — In just three months, the Navy has had more personal motor vehicle deaths than it had hoped to see for all of fiscal 2006, according to the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, Va.

The center is reporting 30 sailors killed in off-duty crashes from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. The service had set a target for the fiscal year of 29 or fewer.

The Navy has had the most deaths so far in fiscal 2006, followed by the Army with 24, the Marines with 20 and the Air Force with eight deaths, the services reported.

As of Jan. 2, the Marines were just eight deaths shy of their ceiling for motor vehicle fatalities for fiscal 2006, according to the Naval Safety Center.

The high-water mark for deaths in privately owned vehicles came in fiscal 2002, when the Army lost 202 people, the Navy 75, the Air Force 72 and the Marines 65, statistics show.

The high numbers prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to challenge each branch of the service to reduce those fatalities by half by fiscal 2005 and by 75 percent by fiscal 2008, officials said.

But the goal has proven to be elusive so far.

In fiscal 2005, the Army reported 143 motor vehicle deaths, a decrease of about 30 percent from fiscal 2002; the Navy reported 58 deaths, down from about 23 percent; the Air Force reported 46 deaths, roughly a 36 percent reduction; and the Marines reported 45 deaths, down about 31 percent, statistics show.

Asked if Rumsfeld’s goals to reduce the fatalities so drastically was realistic, the Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke wrote via e-mail saying that the effort to reduce such fatalities has saved lives.

“As a direct result of this effort, the Military Services have experienced 72 fewer PMV (personal motor vehicle) fatalities since fiscal year 2002,” Krenke wrote Wednesday.

For fiscal 2006, the Defense Department plans to focus its efforts on cutting down motor vehicle fatalities during the high-risk periods of summer and the holiday seasons, Krenke wrote.

“The overall goal is zero preventable accidents,” Krenke wrote. “The 50 [percent] and 75 [percent] reductions keep the Department focused toward that end.”

But sailors continue to die in motor vehicle crashes at an alarming rate.

According to the Naval Safety Center, speed, fatigue and inattentiveness have contributed to the deaths, but no one can account for the recent spike in fatalities, said Chuck Roberts, a supervisor at the Naval Safety Center.

“Nobody knows. It’s all guesswork and conjecture. My personal opinion is [that the high number is] an aberration,” Roberts said.

The Naval Safety Center also is looking into whether servicemembers coming back from long deployments are getting into crashes while blowing off steam, but the center has found no data to support that, he said.

The 30 deaths include:

Nine motorcycle fatalities, including one person who was not wearing a helmet.Five fatalities involving alcohol.Four people killed who were not wearing seat belts.In once incident, servicemembers tried to race a train to an intersection and lost, according to a Navy administrative announcement.

“Predictably, the driver was drunk,” the announcement says.

One reason could be that more people are riding motorcycles even if they don’t have the training and agility to control them, Roberts said.

The Marines recently reported that a rash of five motorcycle crashes since Oct. 1 has contributed to a spike in overall Marine motor vehicle deaths, officials said.

Chief of Naval Operations Michael G. Mullen has not decided to take any additional corrective measures at this time to combat motor vehicle fatalities, wrote CNO spokesman Cmdr. John Kirby via e-mail.

“The CNO is very concerned about the disappointing trend in motor vehicle mishaps,” Kirby wrote. “In his view, one sailor or family member lost or injured in a mishap is simply one too many.”

The Navy already requires servicemembers to go through four hours of drivers’ education, but the Navy often does not know when servicemembers get cited for traffic violations, such as speeding or drunken driving, because most such incidents occur off base, Roberts said. [See box.]

One way the Navy could combat this problem is by checking servicemembers’ driving records to identify high-risk drivers and get them the counseling or training they need, he said.

Roberts said the idea raises privacy and legal issues but still has merit.

“There are some of us here in the safety center like myself who believe we are going to have to do something like this to find out who our high-risk drivers are in order for to allow their military leaders to intervene before they have an accident,” he said.

Drivers often keep citations quiet

Procedures to report off-base vehicle incidents in Europe vary.

According to Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman for U.S. Navy Europe, “theaterwide for the Navy, for all moving violations sailors are required to notify their chain of command.”

U.S. Army Europe has no regulation that requires soldiers to report speeding tickets and other moving violations to their command, according to USAREUR spokesman Robert Purtiman.

Marines in the small contingent at U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe in Stuttgart, Germany, are issued their licenses through USAREUR and are governed by USAREUR driving regulations. For them, there is no directive from the Marine Corps on the reporting of civil traffic violations, according to Maj. Patricio A. Tafoya, the MARFOREUR staff judge advocate.

Tafoya said in the Marines, it is expected that noncommissioned officers and other team leaders fix problems with “knucklehead drivers.”

Only a handful of the 175 or so Marines stationed at U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain, have driver’s licenses for Europe, according to Capt. Mark Zarnecki, executive officer of Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe’s 1st Platoon.

“We encourage they report [traffic citations] up the chain of command,” Zarnecki said.

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