MCB QUANTICO, Va. (Aug. 28) -- Safety for Marines operating motor vehicles is no laughing matter, but at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command Auditorium Aug. 28-29, Cajun stand-up comedian and traffic safety expert Steve Verret, who runs the Improv Comedy Traffic School in Carlsbad, Calif., had Marines and civilians laughing and applauding as he delivered his unique and often uproarious take on traffic safety.
""Why not make it fun?" Verret asked. ""I'm going to make them laugh and then they'll learn more that way."
""It's another way of engaging Marines," agreed Connie Nance, leading program analyst at MCCDC. ""It's highly effective."
Verret's presentation on base, organized by the Headquarters Safety Division, coincided with the basewide safety stand-down that was mandated prior to the Labor Day holiday due to the high rate of vehicle, especially motorcycle, fatalities that have occurred in the last fiscal year.
Verret, a New Iberia, La., native is well known throughout the comic world, having worked with comedy titans such as Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. He makes it a habit to travel to military bases across the U.S. to address service members about safety considerations in both a funny and educational way. He estimates he has taught nearly 100,000 people and is scheduled to travel to Iraq with the Army to entertain and educate the troops deployed.
At the MCCDC auditorium Verret divided the audience up into two teams and awarded them points based on how hard they laughed at his jokes, often involving his Cajun uncle Raul and Raul's various shenanigans to escape speeding tickets such as insults towards Texans and stealing ducks off his neighbor's lawn.
In between his jokes however, the 20-year stand-up veteran had several key foot-stompers he relayed to the audience.
""Whenever I work with young Marines, if I can get them to do a few things; be a supportive driver, not drink and drive, and fasten their seat belts, then I think we're way ahead of the game," Verret said.
Verret described a supportive driver as one who does not allow themselves to succumb to road-rage. He asked Marines in the audience what most annoys them about other drivers, such as those who drive too slow in the express lane, fail to merge or keep their turn blinkers on, but then asked the audience to put these relatively minor inconveniences into a larger perspective. One who drives recklessly to ""get back" at someone, he said, risks losing everything they hold dear in their lives, which hardly seems worth it.
Verret also cautioned the audience not to retaliate or take incidents of road-rage as expressed by others personally.
""That person is not angry at you," Verret said, ""they are just looking for a target."
According to Verret, being a supportive driver also means being an alert and distraction-free driver.
""When you're on a cell phone it's equivalent of having two drinks in your body," Verret said. ""That in a nut-shell is why cell phones are so dangerous. Let it go to voicemail."
Verret also exploded the myth that most vehicle accidents happen on highways or at great speed. Almost 73 percent of accidents happen in the city and 56 percent of fatal ones occur at intersections, he said, and more often than not happen near the driver's home. This is because drivers often feel safer and thus become more complacent the closer they are to a familiar area they drive everyday, usually while driving less than 40 miles per hour.
Most safety stand-downs, of course, include a message to not drink and drive, but what Marines may not know, Verret said, is that drivers do not only have to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent to be charged with a driving while intoxicated offense.
""You cannot drive under the influence of anything that makes you dangerous," Verret said, clarifying that one's driving can still be impaired after only one or two drinks, not to mention other illegal substances.
Verret also explained that judicial punishments involving drinking and driving are becoming increasingly severe. If one has been drinking and hits another vehicle and injures the driver, even if the other driver only sustains non-life threatening injuries, the offending driver can still be charged as a felon. As a felon one's insurance rates will automatically double. Even more seriously, since 2005 in California, drunk drivers who unintentionally kill others in accidents can not only be charged with vehicular manslaughter, but second-degree murder as well, which carries a far steeper penalty.
Although it may seem like a no-brainer to some, Verret joked about how many excuses he hears from people at his traffic school about why they do not wear their seat belts, because they don't want to wrinkle their clothing, don't think they are at risk because they are only driving for a short distance, or think they might become trapped if the car is on fire or underwater. Verret dismissed these concerns as groundless; if Marines do not want their uniforms wrinkled they can put a handkerchief or hand-towel between the seatbelt and themselves to prevent wrinkles he said.
Verret also emphasized that it's not enough just to buckle one's seatbelt, but that seatbelts need to be properly fastened across one's collarbone and hip bones. Seatbelt straps that are fastened across one's stomach or under one's arm can actually slice through flesh in an accident, he said.
Drivers should also ensure that passengers behind them should fasten their own seatbelts, not only for their own safety, but the driver's as well. When a vehicle crashes at no more than 30 mph something as innocuous as a box of facial tissue can fly off the rear dash and sever a driver's spine.
""If a box of altoids will kill you from behind, image what a 180 pound human body can do," Verret said.
Sprinkled throughout his lesson, Verret also dropped tidbits of knowledge that took some audience members by surprise, such as the fact that one can lower their vehicle insurance rates by quitting smoking and getting married, or that cars that are red, yellow or white are involved in the fewest crashes, but also tend to get the most tickets.
As Verret concluded his presentation to whooping cheers, Sgt. Maj. James Futrell, MCCDC sergeant major, remarked that Verret's performance ""Makes you think before you act. He related (to the audience) with humor, but the subject was very serious. We're losing too many Marines and too many civilians."