Preventing Military Vehicle Rollovers

A vehicle rollover in Syria on January 25th, 2020 that killed a United States Army Reserve soldier is yet another reminder of the danger and frequency of this type of accident that the military experiences so often. Specialist Antonio Moore, 22, from Wilmington, NC, died in Syria when his vehicle rolled over during a route clearance operation. He was a member of the 363rd Engineer Battalion.

In 2019 at least 15 Soldiers and Marines were killed in vehicle training accidents. These accidents are often the result of operating heavy military vehicles on uneven terrain at night. That was the case for the three soldiers killed early in the morning October 20th, 2019 when their vehicle fell from a bridge and landed upside down in water below. Sergeant First Class Bryan Jenkins, Corporal Thomas Walker, and Private First Class Antonio Garcia belonged to 1st Armored Brigade and were training for the unit’s scheduled rotation to the Army’s National Training Center in California.

When Soldiers and Marines are operating military vehicles at night on uneven terrain there are obvious risks. Driving an uparmored wheeled military vehicle such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) MAXXPRO is very different than driving a civilian vehicle on the road. The military vehicle requires licensing and expertise to operate as well as a truck commander in the passenger seat to issue maneuver commands and provide additional observation around the vehicle for obstacles, threats, and hazards. The windshield and side windows on the MRAP series of vehicles are typically made from a thick laminated ballistic glass and have much less visibility than the average civilian car.

The US Army and Marine Corps have long implemented safety training in the event of a vehicle rollover. In most cases this training consists of a HMMWV cab on a frame that slowly turns the cab and occupants upside down in a controlled environment. This training allows servicemembers to experience the disorientation of the inverted vehicle and work on techniques for exiting the vehicle safely. This exercise also shows the trainees how the vehicle personnel restraint systems and personal protective equipment works. The training, however, may not be addressing the real risks.

In the cases mentioned at the beginning of this article as well as in others in 2019, the Soldiers and Marines killed in each accident died on impact or shortly afterwards. The conditions of each rollover incident vary, but the training mentioned above assumes that the cab of the vehicle remains intact throughout the rollover. As reported by the Army Times, “Cadet Christopher J. Morgan, a member of the Class of 2020, died from his injuries after a vehicle rolled over on its way to field exercises at the U.S. Military Academy’s training area. Morgan died at the scene of the accident.” In another notable rollover incident from 2019, Conor McDowell, a 2017 graduate of The Citadel, died instantly when his vehicle rolled over in rough terrain during tactical maneuvers at Camp Pendleton, California. So many of these incidents indicate that the only way to prevent these deaths is to prevent the rollover in the first place.

The primary issue identified in many of these rollover cases is the visibility in uneven terrain at night. The concern here is that obstacles and hazards blend in with background images with the current vehicle night driver assist. Vehicles in the MRAP category have full motion video screens that display infrared images from sensors in various locations on the vehicle. The video displays and quality are notorious for causing motion sickness and requiring drivers to change positions in shifts while on patrol to prevent sickness. These camera and display systems do not allow correct depth perception and detail. At Convergent3D we believe there is a solution to these system shortfalls. While there are many factors in military vehicle rollovers, we look to improve on what we see as the primary concern, depth perception and visibility when driving on uneven terrain at night. The C3D Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE) solution allows drivers that much needed increased situational awareness.

Convergent3D provides one solution for a primary concern in military vehicle rollovers, but there are many factors at play in these tragedies. Training deaths have outnumbered combat deaths four to one in recent years and vehicle rollovers account for enough of these deaths to warrant active work on solutions. Additional concerns include range surveys ahead of training to identify possible obstacles and dangers, and vehicle maintenance after many years of hard use overseas. These concerns were major factors in the death of Conor McDowell (mentioned above). As information is made public after each of these events, especially those that occur in training, it is clear that there are more preventative measures available.