2006 proves deadly year for AFSPC

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- 2006 was a deadly year for safety-related fatalities in Air Force Space Command; the worst since 2001.

The command lost five Airmen; one drowned in a river, two died riding on motorcycles and two died in automobile collisions. All five incidents were preventable, and poor decision-making played a major role in determining the outcome. Jumping into very cold water, even on a hot day, can be quite a shock to the body, making it difficult to swim. Riding motorcycles without a helmet or taking a corner at more than twice the posted speed limit is outside the acceptable risk envelope. Riding in a car without your seatbelt buckled, even for a moment, invites disaster. Five poor decisions -- five deaths.

In both of the automobile fatalities all of those who were wearing seatbelts remained in their vehicles and survived. All who were not were thrown from the vehicles and died. Statistically, those who don't wear seatbelts are 29 times more likely to be ejected from their vehicles and, if ejected, have a 75-percent chance of dying. The safest place in an automobile accident is inside the vehicle and the best way to stay in the vehicle is to wear a seatbelt. It's not magic, it's not fate. It's just physics.

In a collision, passengers inside the vehicle keep traveling at the same speed the car was going before the impact. As a result, unbelted passengers slam into windshields, steering wheels, dashboards, other passengers and other interior parts of the car. Many suffer severe injuries -- some die. Seatbelts keep vehicle occupants in place making them less likely to run into those objects. Seatbelts also help your body absorb the impact by spreading the forces of the crash across the strongest parts of your body, the bones of your hips, shoulders and chest.

In a rollover crash, injuries to an unbelted person can be even more severe. As the vehicle rolls inertia tends to fling all loose objects toward the outside walls of the vehicle -- like tennis shoes in a dryer. Shattered glass windows become open holes allowing loose objects to be ejected, many of them slamming into interior structures on the way out. Bodies that fly clear of the rolling vehicle often hit other objects or are struck by other vehicles. Some victims only partially eject and suffer paralyzing injuries as the vehicle rolls over them repeatedly. It is a fast-moving, chaotic environment full of death and destruction.

Why dwell so much on vehicle collision physics and seatbelts? Because riding in vehicles is so much a part of everyday life, people tend to discount the dangers presented at every mile. There is probably no other everyday activity that has the potential to change from tedious to terrifying in the blink of an eye. And there is no other safety device that has been proven more effective at saving lives than the seatbelt. Please buckle up, ensure others do the same and live to tell the story.