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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Base officials here are cracking down on inattentive and reckless drivers. Cops are stepping up speed patrols in school zones — and anyone who gets a ticket will be required to complete an online defensive driving course or risk losing their license.

And the speeders won’t be the only ones lining up for the class. The new 35th Fighter Wing policy orders anyone cited for a moving violation or found at fault in a vehicle accident — on or off base — to take the course. Failure to do so within seven days of being cited will result in suspension of driving privileges from seven days up to a year.

The policy went into effect before the wreck in Misawa city April 3, involving a Naval Air Facility Misawa sailor, in which a Japanese national was killed. Base officials said Monday that no charges have been filed against the 19-year-old sailor. But military officials say the accident underscores the importance of driving safely.

“That was a very clear and graphic example of what the consequences can be of driving inattentively or unsafely,” said Misawa base spokesman Capt. John Haynes. “We just need people to understand you’re playing for keeps with driving safety.”

The online driving course was previously an optional tool available to commanders, said Tech Sgt. Adan Martinez, 35th Fighter Wing ground safety manager. They could, for example, require an airman take the course before getting a suspended license reinstated.

The multimedia course can take up to two hours to finish. Currently, the software is available on two Family Support Center computers. Traffic violators print out their score and submit it to Martinez’s office, he said. The base is trying to get Pacific Air Forces’ approval to make the course available on the base intranet.

Since the policy went into effect in mid-March at least 18 people have signed up for the course as a result of traffic violations, Martinez said. Base officials said 16 speeding tickets were issued in March.

“A lot of people have been getting tickets,” Martinez said.

The strict policy is spurred in part by a “continuing stream of” private vehicle accidents, Haynes said.

In fiscal 2003, there were 600 minor vehicle accidents on base; thus far, in fiscal 2004, there have been 346. Major vehicle accidents in the same time periods are 78 and 41, respectively.

“We have a fairly high percentage of vehicle accidents per capita,” said Senior Master Sgt. Scott Allibone, 35th Security Forces Squadron operations superintendent. Most accidents are in parking lots and many are weather-related — driving too fast or following too closely for road conditions.

In an effort to cut down on accidents — and in response to a handful of complaints that people were driving too fast — security forces are homing in on speeders, particularly in school zones, Allibone said.

“Traditionally, we put a cop out there to help wave traffic,” he said. “Now we’re putting a cop out there to actually cite offenders.”

A cop will patrol the school zones “every day that we can,” he added, “which is most days.”

In addition to increased enforcement, commanders are being asked to give written counseling letters to airman cited for a traffic violations, rather than verbal warnings.

“Enforcement is a command issue,” Allibone said. “We basically observe and report the offense; the enforcement lies with the unit commander or first sergeant. If a verbal warning doesn’t work, and you have a multiple offender, there are other actions that they probably should take that are administrative."

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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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