Marines Divided over Traffic Violation Policy

By Matthew Dodd

In the eight weeks since it was published, I’ve received a lot of thought-provoking responses from my article about the new II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) “get-tough-on-traffic-violators” policy (“Study Long-Term Impact of New USMC Policies,” DefenseWatch, Dec. 1, 2003). Based on the sheer volume of the e-mails I received, and the strong comments expressed in most of them, it’s clear that the issue of traffic safety and violators touches a nerve in many service members, especially Marines.

As promised, let me share with you some selected excerpts from those e-mails and my analysis of what those e-mails told me.

Overall, I would say that the response was pretty much divided between those in favor of the policy and those opposed to it. Frankly, I was surprised not to see overwhelming support either way. One trend I did notice was that certain parts of the policy got much more attention than others. Those parts also elicited more spirited comments from many readers.

An Army military policeman sent me a copy of one post commanding general’s 2001 policy memorandum on drunk or drugged driving. That memorandum was very similar in tone to the II MEF policy. One main difference was that the Army policy also applied to the operation of motorized watercraft. If the II MEF policy does not include motorized watercraft, I believe the policy should be modified to include it.

The Army general’s reasoning behind his policy is perfectly in sync with II MEF’s concerns: “I wish to deter military personnel from endangering themselves and others when they exercise the poor judgment to drive while impaired by intoxicants.” What II MEF addresses and the Army post commander does not in his memo is reckless driving. I believe it makes sense for the post commander to expand the focus to include reckless driving.

Many readers commented on officers and staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) being expected to report on- and off-base violations. Some viewed that mandate as micromanagement and an invasion of privacy. Some writers said:

“This is another measure of micro-management and in my opinion almost a double jeopardy situation. Enforcement, Education and Engineering are the three keys to providing safety on our highways …. Every member of the service has a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if they live in the squad bays or barracks .… We all know what goes on for a lot of folks who are off duty, however, whenever a Marine acts irresponsibly (DUI, excessive speed, reckless driving, etc.) they should be held accountable. As far as SNCOs and officers going after people for driving infractions, well, I think that’s going a little too far …. ”

Others viewed it as a liberating empowerment or a reinforcement of the way things should have always been. One writer saw this as an effort to restore leadership in the chain of command:

“As for the II MEF policy, it is about time that a commander gave Marines back some of the authority they used to have that enabled effective troop leading! I would love to see that policy Corps-wide. “No fear” is what many young Marines feel when approached and corrected by seniors .… It is our responsibility to help wayward Marines see their faults and guide them back onto a correct course. Anything less is dereliction of duty. OOH-RAH for II MEF .… Do you care enough about your Marines to show them tough love? Talk is cheap, all the way around. Action is what matters and is louder than words.”

Some readers expressed legal concerns about the policy. A few wondered whether officers and SNCOs assisting civilian law enforcement personnel by reporting off-base violations was a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits military personnel from engaging in law enforcement activities. A couple of readers also viewed restriction of on-base driving privileges for off-base violations as a “double-jeopardy” situation. Another reader observed that this policy has the potential to seriously overload what he already sees as an overly backlogged and overly bureaucratic base legal system where many cases are dropped and many other violations often go unpunished.

Not all readers accepted the grouping of reckless and impaired driving in this policy. One reader in particular differentiated between the two and expressed a rather hard-line position when it comes to combating drunk driving:

“Drunk driving, on the other hand, deserves a skewering, as it endangers life, limbs and property. All violations under the influence of alcohol should be treated in the same manner as any other drug offense. It may be legal to drink, but a military member is responsible for [his or her] own actions 100 percent of the time. Maybe military bases should stop selling alcohol and shut down the club system.”

This policy is now approaching its 100th day anniversary. I believe in an old military saying that no plan survives intact after first contact with the enemy. Accordingly, I wonder how well this policy is holding up after its first contact with traffic violators.

The policy’s concepts and intentions sound good and look good on paper. However, as with all policies, how it is enforced and accepted, and what the actual results of the policy are relative to what was expected, will ultimately determine whether this policy succeeds or fails. I would like to hear from troops, staff NCOs, officers, and members of the military and civilian police within the II MEF sphere of influence who have experienced this policy firsthand, or who know of others who have experienced it firsthand.

Lt. Col. Matthew Dodd USMC is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at mattdodd1775@hotmail.com.