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Staying safe on winter roads


One big step toward staying safe on the highway during the holidays and bad weather is simple, said Air Force Academy law enforcement and safety experts: pay attention.


Lt. Col. Lance Spear, director of the Academy’s Safety Office, said distracted driving -- often caused by a driver using a cellphone -- is a common factor in vehicle collisions and accidents.


"Just pay attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “At 55 mph, the average text takes your eyes off the road long enough to cover a football field. An immeasurable amount of pain and suffering can be inflicted in that distance.”


Colorado State House Bill 09-1094 went into effect Dec. 1, 2009. The law bans the use of cellphones for drivers under the age of 18 at all times. The law also bans texting, emailing and Tweeting for all drivers but allows drivers to use a cellphone in the case of an emergency.

It’s also against federal law for any driver to use their cellphone while driving on a federal installation except in the case of an emergency.


Speed kills

Along with distracted driving, speed often plays a part in vehicle collisions and accidents, said Tech. Sgt. Phillip Mendoza of the Academy’s 10th Security Forces Squadron. Mendoza said most of the collisions reported on the installation occur near the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and Pine Drive, near the “tri bridges” area.


 According to Colorado State Patrol reports, 341 people were killed on state roads in 2014. Half of those fatalities were not wearing seatbelts, said the reports.


The highest speed limit on the Academy is 45 mph, on Stadium Boulevard and part of North Gate and South Gate boulevards.


“Some drivers think the roads are wide open, but they’re not,” Mendoza said.


Mendoza said too much speed in clear weather is dangerous, but even the safe speed limits across the base might be unsafe during bad weather.


“Drive according to the weather patterns,” he said.


During the winter months, drivers on the Academy commonly face black ice; fail to keep a safe distance between other vehicles, and their limited visibility due to snow or sleet.


Vehicles colliding with animals on base are another law enforcement and safety concern here. 

Earlier this month, a driver swerved to avoid hitting a deer and collided with another vehicle on Academy Drive.


Mendoza said there’s an ongoing argument concerning whether or not to swerve, but ultimately a driver will have to use their judgment as each case is different.


The one commonality, he said, is that drivers are often so focused on avoiding an animal in the road that they swerve out of the lane and collide with another vehicle.


 “If you can swerve in a controlled manner without endangering other drivers, then you can swerve to miss a deer,” Mendoza said. “Colliding head-on with a deer or an elk or any other large animal can be very dangerous for the driver and front passenger. No matter what, try to slow your vehicle down in a controlled manner and in a straight line.”


Spear said the main purpose for any driver should be to safely arrive at their destination.


“Anything that distracts you from that purpose is not worth it,” he said. “The text, the phone call or the spilled drink, can wait. If it can't, then safely pull over and take care of it. The life you save may be your own.”



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