CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Seatbelt offenders run the risk of losing their base driving privileges under a force protection initiative set to take effect here later this month.
Beginning Dec. 23, motorists convicted of operating a vehicle without wearing seatbelts will lose driving privileges for 30 days.
This force protection measure has always been an option under the base motor vehicle traffic safety regulations. The decision to aggressively enforce it was made after tallying the results of random seatbelt compliance checkpoints held in conjunction with the recently concluded national "Click-It or Ticket" program.
During a three-week period in November, the Provost Marshal's Office conducted 19 seatbelt compliance checkpoints and screened more than 13,000 vehicles. Of those screened, 286 motorists were cited for violation of the seatbelt policy.
"This is a force protection issue - pure and simple," said Maj. Gen. Henry P. Osman who, as commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, leads the bulk of the Marines and sailors here.
"If we can save just one life through a focused, robust effort, then we will have succeeded. It's tough enough to write a letter to parents or a grieving widow in the case of combat losses," he said. "To lose a good Marine or sailor because of negligence is unacceptable."
With an average of 12 patrol units canvassing the roads here daily, PMO is fully prepared to explain and enforce the new initiative.
"I really hope the program is going to be effective... to make sure that people realize that there is no glory or honor in dying for your country behind the wheel of a privately owned vehicle," explained Provost Marshal Lt. Col. David Matthews. "It's painless to buckle up your seatbelt, and it's flat suicidal not to wear your seatbelt."
Citations can be issued for several specific violations. A driver can be cited when not wearing a seatbelt or whenever he/she permits passengers to ride in the vehicle without first buckling up. Additionally, if passengers or drivers are unbelted, the senior Marine in the vehicle can also receive a citation.
Matthews explained upon conviction at Base Traffic Court, the red, blue or green base sticker, as well as the expiration date stickers, will be scraped from the offender's vehicle windshield.
"The intent is not to punish," Osman explained. "But to make the result of not wearing a seatbelt so negative that a cultural change will take place and Marines will wear their seatbelts by instinct."
For married Marines, provisions have been made to ensure the non-violator is not penalized. Color-coded tabs indicating the sex of the non-suspended spouse will be affixed to the windshield decal. "If a vehicle pulls up with an indicator that says male only and there is a female behind the wheel, then we'll pull them over at the gate, check to see why they are driving the vehicle and check to see if they are on the suspended list," Matthews said.
As advance word of the initiative spreads, it is drawing high praise from those in leadership positions.
"In my mind (seatbelt use) should be no different than turning on a light when you enter a dark room," said Sgt. Maj. Brian K. Pensak, base sergeant major. "It should be a reflexive action that happens each time you get in a vehicle, whether as the driver or the passenger."
Pensak said that all commands aboard Camp Lejeune are serious about force protection, and that he and others are working hard to ensure that the message gets to all hands.
"I am working through the sergeants major and command master chiefs of the various commands and units aboard Camp Lejeune to get the word out," the Jacksonville, N.C. resident said. "As part of this campaign, we are assigning SNCOs to assist the MPs at the various traffic stops aboard base. Safety is a leadership responsibility and all leaders need to be involved."