CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In a determined effort to curtail dangerous driving habits and prevent needless Marine deaths on the nation's roadways, senior leaders have recently instituted stiffer penalties for major traffic violations such as driving under the influence, excessive speeding and reckless driving.
During fiscal year 2003, 20 Marines were killed in automobile accidents - a statistic that doubled from 2002 reports and has safety proponents searching for solutions.
According to base Safety Manager Jordan Pickett, II Marine Expeditionary Force Commander Lt. Gen. Pete Osman, Lejeune Commanding General Brig. Gen. Robert C. Dickerson and area commanders want to "raise the pain threshold" for Lejeune service members who receive major traffic citations from civilian authorities in order to dramatically halt the rapidly rising number of fatalities.
"What we've done in the past isn't a deterrent," said Pickett. "Car and motorcycle crashes are continually killing Marines and sailors at an alarming rate."
The initiative is based on the foundation that driving on base is a privilege for Marines, sailors and dependents. Osman, Dickerson and commanders throughout the region aim to reinforce the fact that Marines and sailors are accountable 24-hours a day, which includes following traffic rules everywhere. Marines who fail to uphold the standards risk non-judicial punishment, stiff monetary fines, and/or immediate suspension or revocation of base driving privileges. Additionally, the base Traffic Court plans to increase the number of points assessed for certain traffic offenses and require remedial driver improvement course attendance.
"As drastic as the measures may seem, my commanding officers, sergeants major, and I agree," said Osman, "that the time has come to 'get serious' about vehicular safety."
Osman also noted that, "Across the MEF, we have instituted policies which reduce our Marines' and sailors vulnerability on long holiday weekends by ensuring that their long distance travel takes place during daylight hours. This has helped, however, what is truly needed is a cultural shift in our Marines' and sailors driving habits. Cultural change comes hard and often can only be effected by drastic measures - deterrents that are real and understandable. The penalties for reckless driving will be very severe. Accountability is key; I intend to hold Marines and Sailors responsible for irresponsible actions."
In a concerted effort to make the roadways safer, local law enforcement agencies from counties surrounding Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point will automatically forward information regarding an offending driver to the Provost Marshal's office here. Information will be simultaneously forwarded to the unit commanders and base Traffic Court, both of whom have the authority to take appropriate action.
Furthermore, all officers and staff non-commissioned officers are empowered to report improper off-base driving behavior to PMO. Witnesses to erratic or dangerous driving can simply relay the vehicle's description and license plate number to PMO. A report will then be issued to the offender's command for action.
While a nationwide safety campaign and tougher law enforcement stance on offenders might have resulted in fewer deaths last year, more than 6.3 million police-reported crashes still occurred, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. The NHTSA reported the total number of fatalities rose only slightly in 2002 with 26,549 total drivers killed, 1,920,000 injured; while 10,571 passengers were killed and 880,000 injured.
Impaired driving and failure to use seatbelts continue to be causal factors of highway fatalities. Alcohol-related deaths contributed 41 percent of total highway fatalities: 17,419 persons were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2002, 15,019 of which involved a driver or occupant with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 of greater. Fifty-nine percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed last year - more than 19,000 - were unrestrained, according to the NHTSA.
In 2001, 36 percent of young male drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding and were twice as likely to not be wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash. For drivers between the ages of 21-24 involved in speeding-related fatal crashes in 2001, 51 percent were intoxicated.
Two-wheeled vehicle operators weren't exempt from the death toll. Thirty-nine percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding.
Of particular note, only 14 percent of all speeding-related fatalities occurred on interstate highways.
Local statistics show similar trends with the majority of fatalities involving Marines aged 19-24 occurring off-duty, off base and after-hours when small unit leaders have the least influence, said Pickett.
"This initiative is about Marines - at all levels - looking out for each other," said Capt. Neil F. Murphy, Jr., base public affairs officer. "It takes all Marines to support and implement this plan through their own behavior and positive leadership and monitoring of their fellow Marines. We save lives on the battlefield and the roads should be no different."
To download the policy letter log on to www.lejeune.usmc.mil.
For more current traffic statistics log on to www.nhtsa.dot.gov.