ARLINGTON, Va. — With auto crashes claiming the lives of an inordinate number of Marine recruiters, safety officials are beefing up a program to install black boxes in recruiters’ vehicles in an attempt to reduce the traffic deaths.

The Recruiting Command bought 200 hand-sized, compact AutoWatch devices, at roughly $200 a pop, which plug into vehicles and track data such as speed, engine RPM, distance traveled, driving time and braking patterns.

The fatality rate for recruiters from traffic deaths is about 42 per 100,000, about 30 percent higher than the Marine Corps general population rate of about 31 per 100,000, said Lt. Col. Benjamin Moody, executive assistant for Marine Corps safety.

It’s a pilot program for now. Of the 3,324 Marines assigned to the command, roughly 2,500 are recruiters who hit the road daily, some driving hundreds of miles to meet various appointments.

“We’re looking at this to see if it works,” said Maj. Edward Romasko, assistant chief of staff and logistics officer for Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “Due to budget constraints, we want to see if they actually work before spending a lot of money.”

But the concept isn’t new for the Corps. For example, three years ago, safety officers at Camp Lejeune, N.C., installed the AutoWatch black box into military police cruisers — unbeknownst to the MPs.

“They concealed it and caught some driving in triple digit speeds … one going 127 mph,” said Joe Ellington, of C-A-S Systems, the product distributor for the U.S. military. “You take a person on the [late night] third shift, they’re bored to tears, and they wanted to see how fast the car would go.”

Then, when MPs were told their driving habits were monitored, the information not only reduced speeding and the number of collisions, but also drastically reduced the maintenance and fuel costs for the fleet of cruisers, according to Lt. Col. David Matthews, Camp Lejuene’s top law enforcement officer.

“I look at this like drug testing,” said Ellington, an Air Force Vietnam veteran who got into the business in hopes of making a difference for servicemembers. “If they go out and spot-check, you don’t do drugs. You, as a young Marine, know you have this black box in your car … it makes you think twice before doing something stupid.”

The Corps hopes to equip tactical vehicles such as Humvees and light armored vehicles next. If data from the boxes can shed light on how and why they roll over and kill troops, for example, changes can be made, Moody said.

The program of fitting recruiters’ vehicles with the black boxes is one of 43 initiatives the safety office is working on to reduce on- and off-duty incidents and fatalities.

The Army, too, has begun testing the device at their safety center, Ellington said.

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