Drive defensively, arrive alive

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The ability to drive safely is often not about knowing how to handle one’s own vehicle, but being able to anticipate how other drivers will respond in a given situation.

With a higher tempo of accidents around VAFB in the last several weeks, and the excessive rainfall, being a defensive driver is ever more prevalent.

“In the last week there have been three significant motor vehicle accidents within the short stretch of Highway One and 135 between Fire Fighter Road and San Antonio Road West,” said Col. Michael Wulfestieg, 30th Space Wing chief of safety. “In all three cases, vehicles crossed the median and affected traffic traveling in both directions, resulting in injuries and major damage to vehicles.” Although investigation reports by the California Highway Patrol have not been finalized or released, initial assessment is that all of these would likely have been fully or partially avoided if drivers utilized some of the following defensive driving skills.

-Don’t drive faster than the maximum posted speed limit, many drivers just need to SLOW DOWN, especially when the road is wet with active rain or fog.

-Stay focused on driving. Even looking away from the roadway for a split second can result in serious consequences.

-Leave ‘escape’ space between the vehicle and others on the road. This will allow more time and options to react if needed.  

-Watch for FOG and clouds; especially around the base. Changes in elevation create significant temperature differentials and pockets of fog that come and go quickly. Some drivers have even reported that their windshield briefly ‘iced up’ and obscured their vision while in this area. 

-Watch for ICE on the road - even in this part of California. Recent weather conditions have produced moisture and temperatures capable of black ice, especially during morning hours. 

-If the car drifts off the road, DO NOT PANIC. Let your foot off the gas and try to safely slow the vehicle, maintaining control over your vehicle. If you have to continue for a short distance while off the roadway, do so and stop as soon as possible. Return to the road only when you can do it safely.  Trying to return to the roadway too quickly, especially at high speeds, in areas with soft shoulders or muddy conditions, can easily result in loss of control and roll-overs.

According to recent forecasts the rain shows no sign up letting up anytime soon, and even after the rain, the incessant fog is a frequent morning visitor.  

“Almost all mishaps are avoidable and I'm not just saying that because I'm a safety guy,” said Michael Trudeau, 30th SW chief of occupational safety. “Most mishaps I have investigated resulted from poor planning, lack of sound judgement, and ineffective risk management. Taking a few minutes to assess risks before driving and continuing to assess the risks while driving will ensure drivers are more prepared and aware. It has been several years since we have had consistently wet and rainy conditions, and the forecast shows it continuing for the near future, so give yourself extra time, extra space, slow down, stay alert and drive safe. Driving can be deadly - arrive alive.”