'Knock on wood': So far, no major accidents during Critical Days

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy has seen no serious injuries or deaths since the Critical Days of Summer safety campaign began May 27, the Academy's director of safety said July 18.

"Knock on any wood you can find, there have been no major accidents here," Lt. Col. Steve Harmon said, adding that people should keep risk management in mind, particularly while driving, as vehicle accidents have resulted in nine deaths Air Force-wide between Memorial Day and July 18.

"Driving becomes too automatic," he said. "We put our brains on cruise control, and when something unexpected happens, we're caught unprepared. You have to be much more engaged and alert."

Six fatalities so far in the Critical Days of Summer involved motorcycles, according to Air Force Safety Center reports. Of those, two occurred when the motorcyclist lost control of the bike, and four occurred when the motorcyclist collided with another vehicle.

Personal protective equipment is designed to protect a rider from minor accidents and road rash and to increase visibility, but it can't protect against major collisions, Harmon said.

"Motorcyclists have to be extremely alert, and so do drivers around them," he said. "What a motorcyclist has to do is see the situation before it happens, keep an eye on every car before it becomes a threat and slow down at intersections."

The other two motorcycle deaths and all of the four-wheeled vehicle deaths resulted from the driver losing control of the vehicle. The two non-vehicle fatalities stemmed from apparent improper risk management: In one case, an Airman without a personal flotation device drowned after his boat capsized; in another, an Airman took part in a boxing match without headgear and died from severe head injuries.

"Bottom line, stop and think about the risk before you do the activity, whether it's a PFD on a boat or a helmet on a mountain bike," Harmon said. "We do it naturally when we hesitate, but we want to think about it. It's not about 'killing the fun'-- it's about having fun intelligently.

"Take classes. Go do the activity with someone who's good at it. Learn how to do it safely. Don't just dive into it," he added. "Ask yourself: Am I protected to do this, and am I trained to do this?"