MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Winter is turning out to be the season of the fender bender at this northern Japan base.

Since December, more than 100 vehicle accidents involving Defense Department-licensed drivers have been reported on and off base, with motorists following too close or driving too fast on icy roads as factors in many.

“Driving too fast for conditions is the leading cause,” said Master Sgt. Adan Martinez, 35th Fighter Wing ground safety manager.

In December alone, there were nine major vehicle wrecks and 70 minor.

Of the major accidents, seven were off base, where roadways are plowed less often and mounds of packed snow and ice build up between tire tracks. Snow and ice was a factor in six of those wrecks, according to 35th Security Forces Squadron Commander Maj. Joe Milner.

“We did have a spike in accidents last month because of the amount of snowfall that we had,” Martinez said. “The temperatures have dropped, and there’s ice on the roads.”

It’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be letting up. Thirty-five minor vehicle accidents already are on the books for January, though there have been no major ones to date.

Base officials classify major accidents as those involving one or more of the following: injury or death, at least $10,000 in property damage, or a vehicle that has to be towed. Martinez said none of the major crashes in December involved serious injury.

Besides driving too fast for conditions, inattention while driving and backing up in parking lots have been the other leading causes of Misawa’s winter fender benders this year, Martinez said.

In one 24-hour span earlier this year, there were six vehicle accidents in which drivers reported: “‘I began to slide on the ice,’” or “‘the car began to fishtail,’ or “‘I tried to turn and began to slide,’” according to Airman 1st Class John Camacho of 35th Security Forces Squadron.

Two of the accidents involved drivers trying to slow for conditions and either being struck by another vehicle or overcorrecting and leaving the roadway, he reported in a base publication.

With vehicle accidents on the rise, base officials are considering bringing back a traffic safety brochure that would be given to all newly assigned personnel and their families at Misawa’s weekly newcomers’ briefings.

“We used to do that in the past, but we ran out of funds at the safety office,” Martinez said. “So we posted the information on the Internet, but come to find out people like the pamphlets.”

The brochures could be kept in the glove compartment and would contain information such as the Kanji translation of “I’m lost” and what tires are best in winter.

Meanwhile, Martinez and other base officials offer tips for safe winter driving:

Drive four-wheel or front-wheel drive vehicles, which “are so much easier to control in winter conditions than rear-wheel drive,” Martinez said.Snow or all-season tires are required for all base vehicles starting Nov. 15, usually through March 31 or until announced. Another option are tire chains during wintery conditions.Get tire pressure and tread checked at the auto hobby shop or base gas station to ensure tires are in good working condition.Remember the six-second rule: Leave at least six seconds stopping time between the car in front of you.Areas on base that can be hazardous in winter with black ice conditions include: Security Hill Drive, the west end of Falcon Drive between supply and the golf course, and Falcon Drive along the “concrete canyon.”Driving course offered

Misawa Naval Air Facility safety officials are offering a driver-improvement class later this month certified by the American Automobile Association. The class is available to all base residents with a Department of Defense driver’s license.

Navy officials say “this is not a learn-to-drive class, but rather an opportunity to improve your existing skills and learn new ones that can help you be a safer driver.”

Completion of the class may make one eligible for auto insurance discounts in some states. The class is to be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 26 in Classroom A, Building 980. Class size is limited to 20. To reserve a space, contact NAF Safety at DSN 226-3446 or e-mail yokoyama.hirokko

— Stars and Stripes

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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