Bright, visible colors will soon replace the dark color of seat belts on the driver side of government vehicles throughout the installation. An operation order was released in early February from the Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters mandating all government vehicle driver seat belts be installed with high-visibility seat belt covers.
“If the drivers are held responsible, the greater the chances he or she will ensure that those passengers will be doing the same. The driver really is ultimately responsible for the safety of the passengers,” said Randy Grunow, White Sands Missile Range’s safety and nuclear surety director.
Grunow said the request for the seat belt covers came out of a Safety and Occupational Health Council Jan. 21. This is a best practice brought about by ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. Daniel Karbler.
“He thought what they cost and what they provide is all a good thing,” Grunow said.
For now, the practice only applies to ATEC but could be applied throughout the Department of the Army if it is adopted as a best practice. The new OPORD will affect all government vehicles, GSA, tactical and non-tactical. The seat belt cover slips over the top of the seatbelt to make it highly visible, therefore making it highly noticeable if someone is not wearing a seat belt.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Grunow said.
According to the OPORD, the Army loses about two squads of Soldiers a year due to accidents where Soldiers are not properly secured.
Grunow said that based on his experiences over his lifetime he would definitely recommend the use of a seat belt. In 2009, the installation lost a civilian employee who was not wearing his seat belt in a rollover vehicle accident. Grunow said he has seen similar rollover accidents since then where the individuals were wearing their seat belt and they were able to walk away from the accident.
“They’re supposed to be wearing them because it’s the law, but now it will be easier for (police officers) to visually identify if the seat belt is on or not. This is just a better way of enforcing the law,” Grunow said.
WSMR Chief of Police Jackie Cates said he and his team would wholeheartedly agree that wearing seat belts saves lives. He said seat belts have prevented serious injury and death in vehicles accidents that his officers have investigated within the installation. His officers have also seen the other side of not wearing a seat belt and how it contributed to several fatalities.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also concluded that the use of seat belts does save lives.
If an individual is caught not wearing their seat belt within the installation, the fines range from administrative to criminal action. The penalties may include a reprimand, assessment of traffic points, loss of driving privileges, fines or court costs. Cates said there has never been a major noncompliant problem with seat belt requirements. Cates said that police officers on patrol and access control guards are always vigilant and enforce the use of seat belts (and) child restraints. He said the driving public is very much aware of these enforcement efforts both on and off the installation and are generally compliant. However, Cates said patrol officers and access control officers do sometimes have difficulty in observing whether or not a seat belt is in use specifically while in motion and at a distance.
“High-visibility seat belts will give the patrol officers and access control guards (the ability) to physically observe whether or not the driver and occupants are compliant with seat belt laws,” Cates said.
Grunow said the G-4 logistics team will be in charge of the bulk purchase for the seat belt covers instead of asking each separate organization to purchase their own. G-4 will conduct the purchase based off of a list of ATEC government vehicles within the installation. G-4 will also be in charge of distributing the high visibility seat belts once they come in. Grunow said that way they are in control of knowing that everybody received one. Once the high visibility seat belts are installed the installation will officially report a compliance to ATEC headquarters.
Supervisors are responsible for ensuring the seat belts are installed and used. Supervisors are also responsible for determining their own course of action if the practice is not followed.
“Across ATEC it will take a little time to implement and ensure that people are utilizing them as required,” Grunow said.