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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — For the second time this summer, Misawa’s base commander is clamping down on those who drive under the influence of alcohol or behave recklessly behind the wheel.

The latest crack-down was ordered following the latest of several serious vehicle accidents involving young airmen.

Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, the 35th Fighter Wing and installation commander, is expected to sign a policy letter setting various penalties for those driving dangerously, said Col. Don Weckhorst, vice commander. The draft policy would implement the following penalties against drivers caught intoxicated or “under the influence” of alcohol, on or off base, according to blood-alcohol content:

A six-month suspension of driving privileges for a BAC between .03 and .079; .03 is considered legally intoxicated in Japan;A one-year suspension for a BAC between .08 and .149;No driver’s license for two years for a BAC over .15 or for someone who refuses a sobriety test.Further, any military member stopped for drinking and driving, or driving recklessly, will be required to report to Rew’s office at 7 a.m. the next duty day in service dress with his or her commander, first sergeant and immediate supervisor.

Also, anyone caught driving more than about 19 miles per hour over the posted speed limit or found to be driving recklessly will be walking for three months.

Reckless driving is defined as “willful and wanton disregard for safety” of people or property.

Shortly before Rew took command of the 35th Fighter Wing in April, a 19-year-old sailor assigned to the base killed a Japanese national in a car crash. In May, a 19-year-old airman collided with a local driver, killing her, and in June, another airman seriously injured a local woman in an accident.

In late June, after the third serious wreck in as many months, Rew implored the base community to slow down and drive safely. At that time, he announced “driving while intoxicated” - considered a BAC of .10 or higher - would result in a license suspension of one year.

But Americans assigned to Misawa still are mixing driving and alcohol. In June and July, seven people were busted for “driving while intoxicated,” according to figures from 35th Security Forces Squadron, bringing the fiscal year-to-date total to 32, as of last week. In fiscal 2003, the DUI/DWI total was 22.

“A few of us are still not getting it,” Rew says in this week’s commander’s update message, airing on Misawa American Forces Network radio and television.

“Some have continued to drive too fast, drive without insurance or drive while intoxicated,” he says. “Our accident and DUI rates are up and since my last message, we’ve sent another local Japanese citizen to the hospital seriously injured. Therefore, I’m making the penalties for these actions simpler but even more stringent than before.”

The latest accident Rew refers to occurred July 23; a young airman hit a female Japanese motorcyclist head-on after attempting to pass on a hill, base officials said. Though serious, the woman’s injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, officials said.

Weckhorst said a slew of “major and minor vehicle accidents,” not just DUIs or the latest serious wreck off-base, is prompting the tougher driving penalties.

“We’re trying to draw attention to unsafe driving practices,” he said.

author picture
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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