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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — With automobile accidents on the rise this year, many due to speeding, base law-enforcement officials plan to team with Japanese police in the first-ever joint speed patrols off base.

Details still are being worked out, said 35th Security Forces Squadron Commander Maj. Joe Milner, but the idea is to target areas in which Americans are known to speed or cause accidents.

The base has staffed ongoing checkpoints for drunk drivers with Japanese police off base, but this is the first joint effort to nab speeders, Milner said. Japanese police and security forces members would ride together in one patrol car.

“We want to be the ones issuing a ticket if they’re a SOFA plate,” Milner said. A motorist with a U.S. Forces Japan driver’s license ticketed off base by security forces would face the same penalties as imposed on base. Those include forfeiture of driving privileges for three months if caught speeding more than 30 kilometers per hour (about 18.6 miles per hour) over the posted speed limit.

Milner said Friday the joint patrols are expected to start within the next three weeks. Security forces officials and base senior leaders are working out specifics with Misawa’s new police chief, Shogo Ishida.

“Do we want one or two patrols? In the immediate Misawa vicinity … or the road coming back from Hachinohe or Shimoda?” Milner said, listing some details to be decided.

Base officials are concerned by a recent spike in accidents, both on and off base, Milner said. For the past two years, base drivers averaged about 560 accidents annually. The total since Jan. 1 nears 330, with 15 causing either at least $10,000 each in damage or injuries, according to Milner.

Milner said most were due either to speeding or driving too fast for conditions on Misawa’s icy winter roads.

Base officials said they want to nip that trend and are timing increased speeding enforcement off base with the arrival of spring, which last year was deadly for Misawa motorists.

Last April, a 19-year-old sailor assigned to the base killed a Japanese citizen in an off-base car crash. Servicemembers caused three more major accidents between May and July; in one, a local driver died; in others, two women were injured seriously.

Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, in a recent commander’s-update message published in the base newspaper, announced the joint patrols and implored base residents to drive with caution.

“As we head into spring and more people start driving off base, I need you to help me ensure these tragedies don’t happen here again,” he said. “The tighter joint law enforcement and stiff penalties are designed to make our community safer for everyone.”

Milner said the message to American drivers is: “Realize we want you to slow down. … As one way to do that, we’ll raise the risk factor. You can’t speed with impunity” outside the gate.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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