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Phillip Savin, 11, drives a golf cart Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan, with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Rice of the 35th Fighter Wing safety office while wearing vision-blurring goggles. The base’s helping agencies sponsored the event for National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.
Phillip Savin, 11, drives a golf cart Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan, with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Rice of the 35th Fighter Wing safety office while wearing vision-blurring goggles. The base’s helping agencies sponsored the event for National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Phillip Savin, 11, drives a golf cart Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan, with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Rice of the 35th Fighter Wing safety office while wearing vision-blurring goggles. The base’s helping agencies sponsored the event for National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.
Phillip Savin, 11, drives a golf cart Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan, with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Rice of the 35th Fighter Wing safety office while wearing vision-blurring goggles. The base’s helping agencies sponsored the event for National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Maj. Jim Stryd, Health and Wellness Center health promotion flight commander at Misawa, Japan, looks at a pair of fatal-vision googles with Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Jolley on Wednesday in the base exchange parking lot.
Maj. Jim Stryd, Health and Wellness Center health promotion flight commander at Misawa, Japan, looks at a pair of fatal-vision googles with Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Jolley on Wednesday in the base exchange parking lot. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Senior Airman Travis Good of 35th Security Forces Squadron checks in with a motorist Monday night outside Misawa City Hall as part of an off-base traffic safety campaign to keep vehicle-related fatalities in Aomori Prefecture at less than 100 for the year.
Senior Airman Travis Good of 35th Security Forces Squadron checks in with a motorist Monday night outside Misawa City Hall as part of an off-base traffic safety campaign to keep vehicle-related fatalities in Aomori Prefecture at less than 100 for the year. (Photo courtesy of Misawa Police Department)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Messages encouraging safe winter driving are swirling harder than the snow at this northern Japan base.

Monday, the base launched its green-ribbon campaign; that night, Misawa police and base security forces touted traffic safety to motorists outside City Hall.

And Wednesday, base exchange shoppers tried operating a golf cart in the parking lot while wearing vision-blurring goggles, simulating driving while drunk.

The snow has yet to fly and holiday parties have barely begun, yet reminders are thick that driving drunk or stupidly any time — but especially in Misawa’s winter — is a recipe for disaster.

The combined effort Monday to distribute safety fliers, posters and trinkets — a small plastic bag and bath salts — to off-base drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists was part of the Misawa District Traffic Association’s Nov. 22-Dec.31 “final 40 days” campaign, led by Misawa police and other local off-base groups.

“We want to say … ‘Drive slow. This is party season. Keep in mind that when you drink, don’t drive,’” said Kazutaka Sawada, Misawa Police Station assistant inspector, through a translator.

Or, “Let’s have the year end without an accident and a new year with a smile,” read the sticker, in Japanese, on the bath salts.

Other city police departments with civilian-group support are conducting similar campaigns throughout Aomori Prefecture, Misawa police officials noted.

The goal: Keep the prefecture’s 2005 traffic-related deaths below 100 for the year. Misawa police said that as of Tuesday 77 people had died in car accidents in Aomori, the fewest since 1965, when 97 died. This could be the first time in 40 years that fewer than 100 fatalities occurred, said Tsukasa Machiya, Misawa police liaison.

Every year, Misawa accidents also involve Status of Forces Agreement drivers — one American was killed this year. “That’s why we invited the security police” to help pass out fliers, Sawada said.

Vehicle fatalities in the prefecture most often involve elderly victims, including pedestrians, he said, adding that Misawa police have given senior citizens wearable reflectors.

They also recently passed out fliers at Misawa’s main gate encouraging Americans to put studless winter tires on their cars. Base drivers must have either winter or all-season tires on their cars by Nov. 15. While all-season tires work fine on packed snow, they’re not effective on icy roads and skid like a skate, Misawa police said.

Base officials and groups also are stepping up safety awareness. Tying green ribbons to car antennas is one effort; combatting drunken driving, which accounts for the second-highest number of vehicle-related deaths in the prefecture, is another.

On Wednesday, the golf cart at the BX parking lot drew much attention.

“Trying to drive, that’s dangerous, man,” said Airman Kevin Stewart of Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron One after plowing over several cones while wearing the fatal-vision goggles. The pair he wore simulated 1.7 to 2.0 blood-alcohol content impairment, blurring depth perception and peripheral vision.

“For you, that’s probably seven drinks in an hour,” said Sherri Light of the Drug Demand Reduction and Drug Education For Youth programs.

“That’s crazy,” Stewart said. “I ain’t ever got to that point where I was intoxicated like that.”

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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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