Members of the military caught speeding on Fort Gordon no longer have the option of reporting to military court alone or dressed in camouflage when charged with a traffic ticket.
Now, they must be in full uniform and have their first-line supervisor at their side during arraignments, according to a policy introduced at the Augusta Army post this week.
The change in courtroom etiquette has been in the works since 2011 as a way to improve safety at Fort Gordon, which has seen a 60 percent increase in dangerous speeders since the start of the year.
“The real reason for these changes is that the general and senior leaders at Fort Gordon are looking to reduce traffic violations – mainly speeding – by increasing commander awareness and oversight,” Col. John Carrell, the staff judge advocate at Fort Gordon, said in a conference call Thursday.
The need for more accountability on Fort Gordon’s roads became an issue two summers ago, when an increase in traffic violations revealed the post’s point-based penalty system was no longer being taken seriously among drivers who committed more than one traffic violation during a specific time period, Carrell said.
Fort Gordon police have cited 39 soldiers for two or more violations in the past 12 months, records show. The number of tickets written to drivers who have exceeded the speed limit by more than 20 mph has increased by more than 60 percent, from 32 citations to 52 citations.
Both crimes have resulted in soldiers having their driving privileges or licenses suspended, Carrell said.
To make more traffic court more formal and possibly crack down on speeders, the post on Monday began requiring first-time offenders to dress in full uniform – all ribbons, insignias and medals. Plus, they must have their immediate supervisor present during traffic court hearings, held at 6 p.m. every other Monday at Olmstead Hall during off-duty hours.
Service members who return to court must have their company commander and first sergeant in attendance.
Those who elect to contest the citation at the initial appearance must appear at the next scheduled hearing, where their leader will not be required to accompany them.
Fort Gordon Police Chief Willie McClinton said Thursday that he “absolutely” believes the amended policy will result in safer roads. In addition to curtailing speeding, he said, it should help stop people from using their cellphone while driving on base, the most common traffic violation cited by the 29 police officers on McClinton’s staff.
“It will make drivers more attentive,” said McClinton, who has also forecast a decrease in rear-end crashes on the 55,000-acre post, which gate officials estimate sees 40,000 vehicles a day.
The working military population at Fort Gordon is a little more than 15,000. In addition, about 2,800 military family members live on the post, said Public Affairs Chief J.C. Matthews.
The changes in procedures is exclusive to Fort Gordon. Unlike most other Army bases across the country, where a federal magistrate handles traffic citations, Fort Gordon has received permission from the U.S. District Court to hear misdemeanor citations issued against soldiers.
With more than 3,300 citations issued since July, Carrell said, the change was necessary.
“It falls upon us to take the measures to enforce the traffic violations,” the judge said. “Because we do not actually have a magistrate coming and hearing cases for service members.”