AVIANO, Italy — The 31st Fighter Wing is tightening requirements for safety equipment in personal vehicles to bring them in line with Italian law.

As of Tuesday, inspectors are requiring private vehicle owners to not only have their vehicles pass a variety of mechanical tests, but also carry warning triangles and reflective vests. If they don’t, Staff Sgt. Charles Briscoe said, they don’t pass.

“It’s not like it’s something we’re doing by ourselves,” said Briscoe, a vehicle inspector. “It’s Italian law.”

Still, the inspections aren’t covering everything that Americans should be keeping in their cars in Italy. Regulations also call for first-aid kits and spare light bulbs. Those two items are strongly recommended by safety officials, but won’t cause an inspection failure. Their absence could, however, prompt hefty fines by Italian authorities if the vehicle is pulled over or involved in an accident.

Base officials said they couldn’t comment on whether the July 8 death of Senior Airman Seneca Johnston had anything to do with the new safety emphasis. Johnston, assigned to the 31st Maintenance Squadron, was killed after being struck by two cars. He had been on the roadside with his disabled vehicle. The driver of the first car stopped to help Johnston, who then was hit by a second car. A 22-year-old Italian man has been charged in the accident, which is still under investigation.

“We’re doing this to ensure the safety of our members and their families,” Briscoe said.

Without passing an inspection, owners don’t have the proper paperwork they need to drive in Italy. And those who don’t pass also won’t be able to purchase gasoline coupons.

Still, Briscoe says, he knows that some people are driving around without getting their cars inspected, mostly because they don’t believe they’ll pass. That doesn’t make sense, he said. “We’re not here to fail you. We’re here to make sure you have a safe vehicle.”

In an environment such as Aviano, having a safe vehicle could mean the difference between life and death. Narrow roads, high speeds and unfamiliar conditions contribute to an average of more than 700 accidents involving Americans a year.

The base’s new enforcement policy is intended to make drivers better prepared to deal with those accidents when they happen.

Briscoe said vehicle owners won’t be required to demonstrate any skills with their safety accessories.

“You just need to have it,” he said. “It would make sense to have some working knowledge of it.”

He said the safety items the base is requiring are the minimum of what people should have in their cars. Military safety authorities across Europe advise drivers to pack items such as chains and blankets if they’re driving in the winter and carry extra water in the summer.

“Have a plan if you’re going to be taking a trip,” Briscoe said.

Car requirements vary from country to countryMost countries where U.S. servicemembers are stationed in Europe are members of the European Union, where common policy, is — well, commonplace. But seemingly every country has a different take on what people need to keep in their vehicles. All require registration and ownership documents and working seat belts. Most require a spare tire and tools to put it on. But after that, the rules vary.

Belgium: Warning triangle, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit

Germany: Warning triangle, first-aid kit

Italy: Warning triangle, reflective vests (required by American inspectors); first-aid kit, spare light bulbs

Luxembourg: Warning triangle, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit

Netherlands: Warning triangle

Spain: Two warning triangles, reflective vest, spare light bulbs

Turkey: Two warning triangles, first-aid kit, flashlight, fire extinguisher, tow rope

United Kingdom: No additional requirements

Military safety authorities across Europe generally recommend that motorists carry all the items in their vehicles, regardless of minimum standards.

— Stars and Stripes

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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