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thedrifter
05-26-08, 09:40 AM
Driving rules aim to reduce deaths

May 25, 2008 - 11:06PM
JENNIFER HLAD
DAILY NEWS STAFF

For years, the sign has stood next to a crushed car, providing a sobering reminder to Marines cruising by the French Creek area of Camp Lejeune.

"Death on the battlefield is tough. Death in a mishap is unacceptable. Drive safe. Buckle up."

But since October 2007 - the beginning of the fiscal year - more II Marine Expeditionary Force Marines and sailors have died in vehicle crashes than died in combat. It's a statistic Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder calls "wholly unacceptable by any measure."

Stalder, the commanding general of II MEF, recently signed a new order aimed at reducing traffic-related fatalities by requiring commanders to ensure all their men and women have the proper training and licenses before they even purchase a vehicle.

II MEF Order 5100.19 holds service members and their commanders accountable and allows for punishment if service members do not abide by the rules.

"Because incidents have increased in frequency and severity, commanders must intervene and become actively involved to ensure that their Marines and sailors meet all requirements before operating motor vehicles, especially motorcycles," the order reads. "They must also become closely involved in the cases of Marines and sailors who demonstrate themselves to be at greatest risk of harm."

II MEF has investigated 15 crashes since January, 87 percent of which were fatal, according to the order. The remaining 13 percent resulted in permanent paralysis.

In late April, N.C. Highway Patrol authorities said a Marine with Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Battalion 26, was involved in a series of collisions that killed a 36-year-old Jacksonville woman. In November, two Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit were killed when the young man who was driving ran off the road, overcorrected and crashed into a pine tree near Holly Ridge.

II MEF - which includes units in North and South Carolina - also has seen an increase in motorcycle wrecks in recent years, the order states. In many cases, Marines and sailors who knew about problems or reckless behavior were not held responsible, and may even have helped others disobey orders, according to the order.

The regulations require Marines and sailors in II MEF to complete, sign and submit paperwork before they operate any motor vehicle. They also must consult with unit leadership before buying a motorcycle and notify commanders of any motorcycle purchase.

Service members are required to take safety courses in order to register a motorcycle on base, but in the past, some service members got around the requirement by only riding the bike off base and not registering it with Camp Lejeune. The new regulations require service members to register all motor vehicles - even if they never intend to drive the vehicle on base.

"This applies to all motor vehicles regardless of the geographical location in which they are maintained, stored or driven," the order states, though the commander may waive that requirement in certain cases.

"With this order, the commanding general has provided commanders with the tools needed to run an effective drive safe program and hold the Marines and sailors accountable for their actions and, when needed, their inactions," said Lt. Col. Curtis Hill, spokesman for II MEF.

The purpose of the rules, Hill said, is to reduce the number of deaths related to traffic accidents. The fatalities this fiscal year are "unacceptable, and Lt. Gen. Stalder, the MEF commanding general, has taken action to bring the number of these fatalities down."

Contact interactive content editor Jennifer Hlad at jhlad@freedomenc.com or 910-219-8467. Visit www.jdnews.com to comment on this report.

Ellie