Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
The road is bumpy and loose as you tear down the dirt road at 50 mph. Without warning the back end of the vehicle begins to slide as your tire catches the soft dirt shoulder. The car flips and wraps around a pine tree just off the road.
For some this sounds like a bad dream, for others this is the reality of driving down unpaved back roads and letting carelessness take over.
“You could be the greatest driver in the world, but it just takes one second and you could lose your life,” said Cpl. Darien J. Garland, a Cherry Point weather forecaster, who suffered injuries in an accident that took place in January caused by his own speeding.
“The speed limits on these types of roads are too high for the conditions,” said Garland.
Garland said unpaved dirt and gravel roads, combined with bad weather, and high rates of speed are the biggest factors as to why back roads are so dangerous.
“Potholes and the loose gravel only add to accident liability,” said Cpl. Patrick N. Osborne, a Cherry Point accident investigator. “When you add those two factors with the speed factor and people’s complacency, the end result could be serious injury or death.”
“Since November 2009, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron aboard Cherry Point has had two accidents due to poor driving on these back roads,” said
Lt. Col. Michael J. Murphy, director of safety and standardization for the air station.
Murphy said H&HS has lost one Marine and had another injured along with his civilian passenger. In both instances driving too fast for the conditions on dirt roads was a contributing factor.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic accidents. In 2008, speed was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes nationwide.
According to an article by Harris Technical Services, if a person is driving 60 mph on asphalt he would need 160 feet to stop. However, driving at the same rate of speed on a gravel road would take 240 feet to stop.
Murphy said situational awareness and following safety rules can keep Marines safe and can help them arrive alive at their final destination.
“First off, if at all possible, avoid back roads,” said Murphy. “If you do go down these roads, drive slow and stay alert. Even when the weather has been dry and the roads are clear, you can get into accidents. Drivers that pass you kick up dust or drive too close and can push you into the loose shoulder.”
Murphy added motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death among Marines.
“The death of a Marine is not just a tragedy for families,” said Lt. Col. Glenn C. Vogel, commanding officer of H&HS. “To his co-workers, it’s a loss of a comrade we can relate to. It is a tremendous loss for the section, platoon, unit and the Marine Corps. It’s unnecessary and almost always avoidable. It is hard to comprehend when a young Marine or Sailor dies, in the prime of his life, because of an accident.”