Typing in traffic: Texting behind the wheel is unlawful for both civilian, military drivers

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The average person touches their mobile device 2,617 times per day, averaging screen time between 25 minutes and two hours. None of that time should be while driving a vehicle on Whiteman Air Force Base.

Few drivers realize their vehicle acts as a 2,000-pound extension of themselves capable of causing property damage, personal injury or even death.

Did you know studies have shown texting while driving is actually more dangerous than drunk driving? Although the penalties for texting and driving are not yet as severe as they are for drunk driving, they are moving in that direction with a new update to Whiteman Air Force Base Instruction (WAFBI) 31-116, Installation Traffic Code.

Recent code revisions directly address distracted driving and cell phone use. Talking is only allowed if you are using a hands-free device. Additionally, there is now an extra penalty for texting and driving to include suspension of driving privileges for 30 days for the first offense, up to six months for the second offense and up to one year for the third offense.

Earbuds, headphones or other listening devices are also prohibited while operating a motor vehicle, with the exception of hearing protection as required by AFI 91-203, Air Force Consolidated Occupational Safety Instruction, for operating certain types of heavy equipment.

“But, I heard it was legal to talk or text and drive in Missouri, so I’m good, right?” The answer is no.

It is true that only drivers under 21 and drivers of commercial vehicles are explicitly prohibited from texting and driving. All other drivers fall under Missouri’s distracted driver law, however, which requires drivers to drive in a “careful and prudent manner.”

In states where traffic law violations are state criminal offenses, on-base violations of these laws by civilian or military members may generally be charged under the Federal Assimilated Crimes Act.

However, reliance on state law is unnecessary where the installation traffic code has punitive provisions, like here at WAFB.

That means both WAFBI 31-116 and Missouri statutes not specifically addressed in the base traffic code are enforceable on base – and both prohibit distracted driving.

“But these WAFB rules apply just to military members, right?” That is also wrong.

The base traffic code applies to every person operating a motor vehicle on WAFB, regardless of military, civilian, or contractor affiliation or type of vehicle.

Driving vehicles on WAFB is a privilege, not a right. As such, the privilege to drive can be revoked by the 509th Mission Support Group commander for violations. Drivers on base give implied consent to be tested for alcohol and drugs in their blood, breath, and/or urine in exchange for the privilege to drive. Refusing to take such tests results in a mandatory one-year revocation of the individual’s driving privilege.
Military members who commit misconduct are punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but all other drivers who commit offenses are prosecuted in Federal Magistrate Court. This is a court that prosecutes and punishes civilians for federal offenses on base. Magistrate Court, which convenes bi-monthly at WAFB, is conducted by a Federal Judge and a team of Judge Advocate Officers, appointed as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys by the U.S. Department of Justice, and enlisted paralegals. Defendants found guilty at trial may receive a fine, pay court administrative costs, and can also receive a federal conviction.
Please don’t text and drive – and be a safe motorist off and on base roadways.