AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — With all that an assignment in northern Italy has going for it, the Air Force hopes to soon add another attraction: better drivers.

Plagued by a rash of motor vehicle accidents since the mid-1990s, the 31st Fighter Wing is contemplating mandatory behind-the-wheel training for those 26 and younger. Instead of just having them attend briefings and take a written test, they also would be required to attend courses taught by professionals where they’re instructed on how to drive under difficult conditions.

“The reason why we’re doing this is pretty obvious,” said Lt. Col. Adrian Pone, chief of wing safety. “There are a lot of accidents out there on the roads.”

Brig. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the wing commander, has repeatedly said that auto accidents represent the greatest danger to airman assigned to Aviano.

Attempts to reduce accidents have created some short-term success. But two-dozen people have died and hundreds have suffered injuries as the accidents continue at roughly the same pace every year.

The 735 accidents involving American registered cars last year is average, said Lia Scandola, traffic program manager.

The wing hopes its Safe Streets program will get the numbers down. The program contains four components: education, enforcement, rewards and training.

Under education, airmen 26-and-younger will continue to get a mandatory briefing when they come to Aviano and refreshers at six months and a year.

Under enforcement, commanders have the discretion to revoke a driver’s license or take other action against someone thought to be driving recklessly — accidents or not.

Under rewards, days off for the entire wing are possible if goals are met. The goals: dropping the total number of accidents by 15 percent over a six-month period and 30 percent over a year.

But it’s the training aspect that’s the most innovative and expensive.

The wing is trying to find out how much it would cost to hire a professional agency to provide the training. Sending all new arrivals younger than 26 — estimated at about 1,200 each year — through such a course might cost too much.

Scandola said statistics show that younger drivers are much more likely to get in accidents. That’s why they’re being targeted.

Pone and Scandola said all new arrivals face a number of challenges when they arrive at Aviano. Roads are narrow. Some rules are new. Italians drive differently. Conditions get nasty when it freezes, rains or snows.

Common sense also comes into play.

“If people would just slow down and pay attention, I think we’d have a reduction in accidents,” Pone said.

But he hopes the course, which could involve obstacle courses and hands-on lessons on how to maneuver under less-than-perfect conditions, will help. He said a similar program at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, voluntary but popular with new airmen, was an inspiration for those behind the Aviano program.

The wing hopes to have as much success with Safe Streets against accidents as it seems to be having with the Responsibility Condition program that targets drunken driving. That program gives the entire wing a day off if it goes without a DUI for 31 days and limits access to places that serve alcohol when DUIs pile up.

After two straight years of 46 DUIs at Aviano, the number dropped to 28 last year.

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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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