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Naval Air Station Sigonella is trying to put the brakes on traffic accidents.

With about 400 accidents involving U.S. personnel in Sicily this year, the base is looking at ways of cutting down on mishaps.

“We basically have a new [commander], and he thinks it’s appalling,” said Lt. Steve Curry, base spokesman. “… So we’re in a focus of re-educating people and saying we’re going to get a handle on this.”

The base commander, Capt. Joe Stuyvesant, addressed the issue this month at an all-hands call with sailors in grades E-4 and below. Curry said the commander warned sailors that if they don’t shape up, he might institute a curfew, since most accidents occur after midnight.

“He’s going to have another meeting with them [sailors] after Labor Day,” Curry said. “He gave them a month.”

There have been 14 accidents this month, two of which involved injuries.

One sailor crossed the center line and hit another sailor’s vehicle head-on, totaling both cars. And another sailor, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, crossed the centerline and hit a local national’s vehicle head-on, hurting himself and the other driver, according to a base newspaper column written by Stuyvesant.

Last year, there were 751 accidents involving Sigonella personnel.

Though that’s nearly double the number of accidents so far this year, the base is about on target for the average number of accidents in a year, said Woody Olasin, traffic safety specialist.

“Last year at this time, we had about the same number,” he said. “It’s usually from here until December we skyrocket.”

The good news, Curry said, is that citations for driving under the influence are down. There were 58 DUIs in 2003. So far this year, there have been 18.

Two weeks ago, a group comprised of base leadership, security and safety personnel met to come up with strategies to reduce accidents, said Steve Lebeda, Sigonella safety director.

The base may start restricting rental cars to older personnel. Ninety-five percent of accidents in Sigonella involve drivers 25 and under, Olasin said. “One of our high stats [involving accidents] is young drivers in rental cars,” Lebeda said.

The base also plans to make penalties stricter, especially for repeat offenders.

“We found that the people that were having the most accidents were the ... people who had been in previous accidents,” Lebeda said.

Lebeda said the base also might talk to the local government about having U.S. military personnel participate in traffic enforcement off base.

The vast number of accidents is caused by speed and inattentiveness, Olasin said. Seventy-four percent of accidents have occurred on clear, sunny days. In more than 60 percent, an American was at fault.

Lebeda said the rural countryside is too tempting for some drivers with a lead foot.

“[There are] a lot of open roads that go through farm country, so you don’t get that busy, intercity-type of traffic that slows you down,” he said.

“People just apply too much speed and then they don’t have enough time to make an evasive reaction.”

So far this year, accidents have sent 69 Americans to the hospital. Two Italians were killed earlier this year when a sailor driving a government 10-ton truck struck their vehicle.

Traffic statistics

Accidents

2004 (so far): 3962003: 7512002: 6642001: 617

Incidents of DUI

2004 (so far): 182003: 582002: 352001: 33

— Sigonella Safety Office


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