Aggressive driving campaign ensures education, enforcement

17 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan Wright

He laid there, slightly quivering at the thought of what he had become, what he made of himself. The blanket he was under stopped at his waist – no use covering what he couldn’t feel anymore. He just laid there, scared, angry, lethargic, all these emotions combated inside him as he stared at his cellular phone which rested on the table next to his bed. The one he was using just before his world came to a sudden, crashing halt.

“Recent, deadly crashes involving drivers distracted by text messaging while behind the wheel highlight a growing danger on our roads,” stated Barack Obama, president of the United States, in an executive order regarding electronic device usage while driving. “Text messaging causes drivers to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel, endangering both themselves and others.”

In a recent study by the University of Iowa, there are one million drivers utilizing a cellular device while operating their vehicles at any given time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one in every four traffic accidents is a result of distracted driving, with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society reporting how 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year are caused by cellular device use alone.

“To date, this year, we have had around 1,800 wreck reports, a significant number of which are the result of distracted driving,” said Lt. Sean Magill, police lieutenant with the Traffic Division, Jacksonville Police Department. “Due to its newfound national recognition as a high-risk factor in vehicle accidents, we are adding a new section of the crash report to distinguish what type of distracted driving was involved. However, that is a challenge in itself when a good number of distracted driving-related incidents are not confessed to, actions such as texting when the accident happened.”

Making calls on a cell phone increases one’s chances of crashing by four times, an act that is now illegal in 10 states and aboard all military installations. Texting is now illegal in 34 states. Yet, the numbers for citations regarding distracted driving are holding steady, if not increasing periodically.

Yet, what of the men and women in uniform aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and surrounding installations?

“Driving while distracted by electronic devices is very dangerous,” said Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune. “If a driver must send a text message or answer a phone call, he or she should pull to the side of the road – there are no excuses otherwise.”

While a lot of people either hide the fact they were blatantly putting people’s lives in danger by taking their eyes off the road or arguing the incorrect fact that putting your phone on speaker and holding it in one hand constitutes “hands-free,” there is no escaping the fact they are breaking the law as well as multiple Marine Corps-wide and base regulations.

So what is to be done for these seemingly stubborn Marines, sailors and civilians aboard and outside the base?

“For this fiscal year, October of last year to the end of June, there have been 7,392 (Provost Marshal’s Office) citations, the blunt of which are for speeding, not using seatbelts and utilization of cellular phones for making phone calls or sending text messages,” said Stanley Dutko, director of safety for Marine Corps Installations East and MCB Camp Lejeune Safety Department. “Everyone aboard base is subject to substantial punishment when violating the CO’s aggressive driving campaign. We are making a targeted effort to educate and enforce, meaning we talk about the dangers of distracted driving every chance we get to the service members and civilians as well as stepping up in ensuring those in violation are caught.”

Through the aggressive driving campaign, the education of driving regulations and infraction consequences are marked by upgrades in programs and seminars, such as the visit of Kelly Narowski, a paraplegic injured due to the result of bad judgment behind a steering wheel, last month. While conventional safety stand-downs and briefs will remain, efforts to push out educational material and events to those aboard the base have been running at full steam.

In the way of enforcement, disciplinary actions for disobeying such driving regulations have also been bolstered. An operator’s first driving infraction results in revoked privileges of driving aboard the base for one week. A second infraction results in two weeks suspension and a third in 30 days. After that, drivers will wish they paid attention to the law.

“You are putting everyone at risk when you lose attention while driving,” said Dutko. “There’s nothing more important than ensuring you don’t put people’s lives in danger. This is something that needs to be enforced by everyone. Police your own, your subordinates – it is really worth someone’s health or life to see who’s trying to contact you?”

There is one of three things that happen when you get behind the wheel and make bad decisions: either you are caught by the law and subsequently punished, unintentionally injure or kill someone by losing control of one ton of metal, or not getting caught to try again another day.