Military Vehicles: Army and Marine Corps Should Take Additional Actions to Mitigate and Prevent Training Accidents

GAO-21-361 Published: Jul 07, 2021. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2021.
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Fast Facts

We reviewed Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicle (e.g., tanks, trucks) accidents from FY 2010-2019, and steps taken to prevent them.

  • The services reported 3,753 non-combat accidents resulting in 123 servicemember deaths
  • Driver inattention, supervision lapses, and training shortfalls were common causes
  • The Army and Marine Corps have practices to mitigate and prevent tactical vehicle accidents, but units don't always use them
  • DOD improved driver training, but advanced training experience—e.g., driving in varied conditions—differed across units, leading to uneven driver skills

We made 9 recommendations to DOD to help prevent these accidents.

 

A rollover accident

 

 

An overturned tactical vehicle

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The number of serious accidents involving Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicles, such as tanks and trucks, and the number of resulting deaths, fluctuated from fiscal years 2010 through 2019 (see figure). Driver inattentiveness, lapses in supervision, and lack of training were among the most common causes of these accidents, according to GAO analysis of Army and Marine Corps data.

Number of Army and Marine Corps Class A and B Tactical Vehicle Accidents and Resulting Military Deaths, Fiscal Years 2010 through 2019

Number of Army and Marine Corps Class A and B Tactical Vehicle Accidents and Resulting Military Deaths, Fiscal Years 2010 through 2019

Note: Class A and B accidents have the most serious injuries and financial costs.

The Army and Marine Corps established practices to mitigate and prevent tactical vehicle accidents, but units did not consistently implement these practices. GAO found that issues affecting vehicle commanders and unit safety officers hindered Army and Marine Corps efforts to implement risk management practices. For example, the Army and Marine Corps had not clearly defined the roles or put procedures and mechanisms in place for first-line supervisors, such as vehicle commanders, to effectively perform their role. As a result, implementation of risk management practices, such as following speed limits and using seat belts, was ad hoc among units.

The Army and Marine Corps provide training for drivers of tactical vehicles that can include formal instruction, unit licensing, and follow-on training, but their respective programs to build driver skills and experience had gaps. GAO found that factors, such as vehicle type and unit priorities, affected the amount of training that vehicle drivers received. Further, licensing classes were often condensed into shorter periods of time than planned with limited drive time, and unit training focused on other priorities rather than driving, according to the units that GAO interviewed. The Army and Marine Corps have taken steps to improve their driver training programs, but have not developed a well-defined process with performance criteria and measurable standards to train their tactical vehicle drivers from basic qualifications to proficiency in diverse driving conditions, such as driving at night or over varied terrain. Developing performance criteria and measurable standards for training would better assure that Army and Marine Corps drivers have the skills to operate tactical vehicles safely and effectively.

Why GAO Did This Study

Tactical vehicles are used to train military personnel and to achieve a variety of missions. Both the Army and Marine Corps have experienced tactical vehicle accidents that resulted in deaths of military personnel during non-combat scenarios.

GAO was asked to review issues related to the Army's and Marine Corps' use of tactical vehicles. Among other things, this report examines (1) trends from fiscal years 2010 through 2019 in reported Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicle accidents, deaths, and reported causes; and evaluates the extent to which the Army and Marine Corps have (2) taken steps to mitigate and prevent accidents during tactical vehicle operations; and (3) provided personnel with training to build the skills and experience needed to drive tactical vehicles. GAO analyzed accident data from fiscal years 2010 through 2019 (the most recent full year of data at the time of analysis); reviewed documents; and interviewed officials from a non-generalizable sample of units and training ranges selected based on factors, such as locations where accidents occurred.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 9 recommendations to the Department of Defense, including that the Army and Marine Corps more clearly define roles and establish procedures and mechanisms to help supervisors enhance tactical vehicle safety; and develop performance criteria and measurable standards for driver training programs. The department concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army, should ensure that the Army develop more clearly defined roles for vehicle commanders and establish mechanisms and procedures for tactical vehicle risk management to be used by first-line supervisors such as vehicle commanders. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December 2021, the Army plans to develop requirements for vehicle commander qualifications to ensure soldiers assigned these responsibilities are aware of their duties to ensure safe operations and manage risks. Army officials said they also plan to continue to include risk management in Non-Commissioned Officer professional development courses in order to address our recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should ensure that the Marine Corps develop more clearly defined roles for vehicle commanders and establish mechanisms and procedures for tactical vehicle risk management to be used by first-line supervisors such as vehicle commanders. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December of 2021, the Marine Corps plans to implement this recommendation by making additions to tactical vehicle driver and vehicle commander training, and adding an inspection item to the Program Functional Area Checklist as an enforcement function that will focus on vehicle commander functions in unit motor vehicle standard operating procedures.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army, should evaluate the number of personnel within operational units who are responsible for tactical vehicle safety and determine if these units are appropriately staffed, or if any adjustments are needed to workloads or resource levels to implement operational unit ground-safety programs. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided us in December of 2021, Army officials indicated they would complete personnel requirement studies, evaluate additional duty safety officer effectiveness, and develop new training for safety officers to address our recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should evaluate the number of personnel within operational units who are responsible for tactical vehicle safety and determine if these units are appropriately staffed, or if any adjustments are needed to workloads or resource levels to implement operational unit ground-safety programs. (Recommendation 4)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December of 2021, the Marine Corps plans to implement this recommendation. Specifically, officials briefed the Marine Corps Executive Safety Board about expanding the cadre of safety specialists and plans to conduct a poll of unit leaders to identify vacant safety officer billets with the goal of decreasing those vacancies.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army, should ensure that tactical vehicle driver training programs—to include licensing, unit, and follow-on training—have a well-defined process with specific performance criteria and measurable standards to identify driver skills and experience under diverse conditions. (Recommendation 5)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December of 2021, the Army plans to take several actions to clarify and improve the implementation of existing guidance to address our recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should ensure that tactical vehicle driver training programs—to include licensing, unit, and follow-on training—have a well-defined process with specific performance criteria and measureable standards to identify driver skills and experience under diverse conditions. (Recommendation 6)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December 2021, the Marine Corps has already taken appropriate actions to implement this recommendation. However, no significant actions after the date of our report are identified.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army, should ensure that the Army evaluates the extent to which its ranges and training areas are fulfilling responsibilities to identify and communicate hazards to units. If the responsibilities are not being carried out, the Army should determine if existing workarounds are adequate or if additional resources should be applied to fulfill these responsibilities. (Recommendation 7)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. According to a corrective action plan provided to us in December 2021, the Army plans to take several actions to address our recommendation including emphasizing range hazards in training range curricula, publishing an execution order that emphasizes hazards and safety when conducting driver training, and assessing whether more resources are needed to fulfill range risk management responsibilities.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should ensure that the Marine Corps evaluates the extent to which its ranges and training areas are fulfilling responsibilities to identify and communicate hazards to units. If the responsibilities are not being carried out, the Marine Corps should determine if existing workarounds are adequate or if additional resources should be applied to fulfill these responsibilities. (Recommendation 8)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. According to an action plan provided to us in December of 2021, the Marine Corps plans to implement this recommendation. Specifically, the Marine Corps will update the safety of use memorandum to clarify the responsibility of installation range control officers to communicate maneuver hazards on the ranges and training areas. Additionally, the Marine Corps will collect data on existing workarounds for range requirements. Further, the Marine Corps will update Marine Corps Order 3550.9A to provide standardized checklists that each range control will utilize to promote safety. The Marine Corps will also continue to communicate hazards to units that will use ranges via its Range Facility Management Support System.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army, and the Secretary of the Navy, in consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should establish a formal collaboration forum among Army and Marine Corps range officials that allows them to share methods for identifying and communicating hazards to units with each other on a regular basis. (Recommendation 9)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. In a corrective action plan provided to us in December of 2021, Army officials outlined actions it planned to take to address the recommendation, to include working quarterly in Range Safety Working Group meetings or another mechanism and establishing a formal collaborative forum to develop, discuss, plan, share, and oversee range safety procedures, policies and strategies to resolve range safety hazards. Marine Corps officials noted they will continue to use the collaboration forum provided by the Range Safety Working Group to share information between the Army and the Marine Corps, and they also stated that they will hold a Marine Corps specific range safety working group to enable collaboration among ranges and training areas.

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