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GAO: Poor training to blame for military vehicle accidents

House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee chairman calls deaths "preventable"

Army Humvees wait to be unloaded from a rail car at the Bergen-Hohne training facility as part of preparations for the Defender 2020 international military exercises on February 12, 2020, near Bergen, Germany.
Army Humvees wait to be unloaded from a rail car at the Bergen-Hohne training facility as part of preparations for the Defender 2020 international military exercises on February 12, 2020, near Bergen, Germany. (Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

A lack of adequate driver training and a failure to implement safety practices were the most common causes of Army and Marine Corps vehicle rollovers over the last decade, a new Government Accountability Office report has found. 

The report, requested by Congress and obtained by CQ Roll Call, analyzed Army and Marine Corps data that showed there were 3,753 tactical vehicle accidents from noncombat scenarios and 123 resulting military deaths from 2010 to 2019. 

The majority of deaths, 101, were Army soldiers. 

In the past 14 years, nearly four times as many servicemembers have died in training accidents as in combat, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Of the nearly 4,000 vehicle accidents, 342 were class A and B, the most serious classification used by the services. These types of accidents cost between $500,000 and over $2 million, and result in death or permanent disability. 

Not all of the accidents cited in the report were rollovers, but rollovers were present in more than 40 percent of class A and B accidents, and 63 percent of accidents where a servicemember was killed.

Congressional reaction

“Right now, a cascading series of failures within the military is causing the U.S. to lose more service members in preventable training accidents than in combat,” said House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi, D-Calif., in a press release.

“The report highlights a troubling pattern of training shortfalls and supervision lapses that have led to a concerning rise in preventable training deaths throughout the military,” Garamendi said.

Government investigators said in the report that the Army and Marine Corps had not clearly defined the roles of, or put procedures in place for, commanders to effectively perform their role. As a result, risk management practices including wearing seatbelts and not speeding are “ad hoc among units.”

In some cases, servicemembers told the GAO that they did not use seatbelts because they were broken, or removed from the vehicles completely. 

And soldiers told investigators that drivers who were not motor transport officers, or those specially trained to drive Humvees and other tactical vehicles, were far more likely to ignore speed limits. That lack of training sometimes led to accidents, including rollovers.

Training shortfalls 

The report also found that the drivers of vehicles often had limited or rushed training. And when drivers are trained, there is no system in place to ensure they are capable of driving in diverse conditions, including at night or in difficult terrain. 

Investigators said that Humvees were involved in more accidents than any other type of vehicle, though they did not cite the age of the vehicles as an issue. 

Aging vehicles have been a concern of military families affected by military vehicle accidents. There are currently more than 5,000 older Humvees, also called legacy vehicles, in use on U.S. military bases. The military plans to continue operating them until the 2040s.

Most accidents studied by investigators took place in the United States, rather than on bases or deployments overseas, and most happened on roadways or parking lots, during the day. 

Environmental factors seem to play a minimal role in these accidents. Of 51 interviews with Army personnel, three-quarters of servicemembers said inexperience and a lack of supervision were the main drivers of vehicle accidents. 

To address the issues found by the GAO, the agency is recommending that the Army and Marine Corps better develop risk management procedures, improve driver training programs and implement ways to better communicate hazardous driving conditions between units. 

The Pentagon has agreed with all of the GAO’s recommendations.

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