Mildenhall reaping benefits of new safe driving program
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Lt. Col. Tim Nickerson knocks wood each time the subject is broached, but since RAF Mildenhall introduced a driving awareness program last fall, the base has suffered no traffic fatalities and the number of serious accidents has gone down.
“It seems like people are slowing down,” said the base’s chief of safety. “It seems like people are being more courteous out there on the roads.
“My whole thing with the roads has been, we can’t control the roads, but we can control our actions out there.”
The base, home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, created Operation Street Smart after a horrendous series of traffic accidents that claimed the lives of nine people from the base between March and October.
In a two-week period in late September and early October, an airman’s wife and three young children were killed in one accident on A1101, and a staff sergeant died in a head-on collision just a few miles away on the same road.
That highway, which links the base to housing areas in nearby towns, is like many roads in this part of rural England — narrow with abrupt curves that appear out of nowhere.
Col. Richard Devereaux, the base commander, said he was in London with his family when his cell phone rattled with the call about the airman’s family.
“We were walking along the Thames. A cloud came over and just dumped on us,” he recalled during an interview in his office Friday morning. “I thought, ‘How low can you go?’”
Twelve days later came the news of the staff sergeant’s death.
“I think that the whole base went through that same emotion,” he said. “This has to stop. No more fatalities. We can’t accept this.”
The base leadership quickly began considering its options in combating an enemy that strikes without warning and is often a result of unfortunate chance.
“We treated it like an air campaign,” said Devereaux. “We put a planning staff together. We got people included from across the wing.”
The result has been an ongoing campaign that promotes safety and awareness, plus a few new rules of the road. For example, base personnel are not allowed to overtake vehicles on roads deemed the most hazardous by a study of accident patterns.
Also, people carry “safety spotter cards” and are encouraged to report the license plate number of anyone acting in an unsafe manner. Those reports can also be made on the base Web site.
Nickerson said a study of the “safety spotter cards” shows a decrease in the number of military members who are driving unsafely.
Operation Street Smart also encouraged people to get together in the communities in which they live to discuss driving hazards and alternate routes, Nickerson said. Also, the base promotes a different theme each month, such as the hazards of ice on roads or the dangers of mixing alcohol with driving.
Devereaux said Third Air Force, which has its headquarters at RAF Mildenhall, is also considering an enhanced training program for people new to England.
“One of the options they’re looking at is a professional U.K. driving course. I can see many benefits in that,” he said.
It might include classroom instruction and some driving before a person is allowed to negotiate the English roads.
Devereaux noted that the new drivers are not the ones most likely to have an accident. Statistics show that those who are midway through their tour of duty in England are more likely to be involved in accidents as their initial caution vanishes.
“It’s like a new pilot,” said Devereaux. “There aren’t many accidents with a new pilot.”
But, he said, an enhanced training program could provide a better foundation for drivers that would last throughout their tours.
“In the long term, it will make better drivers,” he said.
And it is for the long term that Operation Street Smart has been devised, he said.
“This has to be a long-term program with a long-term mind-set,” he said.