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If you talk, you might walk.

Under a new policy, drivers who get caught chatting on hand-held cell phones while at the wheel on a Pacific Air Forces base soon might be using their phones to call for rides.

In a Jan. 30 policy letter to all personnel, PACAF Commander Gen. Paul Hester prohibited drivers from using hand-held cell phones at all PACAF installations and standardized the punishment across the region for violators.

“Effective immediately, vehicle operators on all PACAF installations and operators of government-owned vehicles, both on and off installations, will not use cell phones unless the vehicle is safely parked or they are using a hands-free device,” the letter stated.

Violators will be issued a written warning until Feb. 28, Hester directed. Beginning March 1, they will lose on-base driving privileges for 30 days.

The policy is status quo for vehicle operators at Air Force bases in Japan and South Korea: Cell phone use while driving in those two countries already was against the law and likewise was prohibited on U.S. bases.

The penalty is new.

“The only change our bases may see is in regards to the punishment,” said Col. James Brophy II, U.S. Forces Japan’s provost marshal, referring to Japan bases. “Right now, each installation commander decides what action to take when someone is cited for this infraction. That punishment will now be standardized at all of our bases.”

USFJ officials said that at Air Force bases in Japan prior to the new guidance, drivers who received a ticket for talking on a cell phone typically would be assessed 3 points on their license. That in itself wouldn’t be much of a problem unless added to another citation, such as speeding, officials noted.

In South Korea, penalties at Air Force bases varied, according to Col. Mike Pasquin, PACAF Security Forces director.

Before the new rule, drivers were not prohibited from cell phone use at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, Pasquin noted. But similar restrictions likely are coming. A new DOD regulation requires drivers on stateside military bases to either use a hands-free set while talking on cell phones or stop their vehicles to make a call.

The new PACAF policy applies to all uniformed military personnel, DOD civilians, contractors, family members and any other non-DOD drivers operating a motor vehicle on PACAF installations.

Hester, in the policy letter, noted that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving contributes to 25 percent of all traffic accidents.

“These accidents have a serious negative impact on our families, unit morale and combat readiness,” he stated.

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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