Just before 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 23, Fort Bragg Police Officer Nicki Kempel pulled over a motorist off Gruber Road for not using a hands-free device to talk on his cellphone while driving.
She waited for radio traffic to clear to call in his tags.
Construction work brings Scott Stephens to Fort Bragg on a regular basis. Breaking the law on post brought him to Kempel’s attention.
“I was on the phone talking about fishing with my neighbor back in Virginia,” said Stephens, who explained that he was further distracted by learning that his neighbor had caught a 57-pound cobia.
Distracted driving is one of several violations Kempel looks for while on patrol. In addition to not using a hands-free device while on a cellphone, other forms of distracted driving she has seen include putting on makeup, eating to the point of swerving, being on a computer, reaching for something in the vehicle that causes swerving, etc.
Even arguing with a passenger focuses the driver’s attention more on the point he or she is trying to make than on paying attention to the road, added Kempel, who has seen it all.
“(There’s) no discrimination or gender when it comes to distracted driving. Everyone does it, be it military or civilian,” said Kempel.
She works long hours, usually first shift. Off the clock, one of her favorite pastimes is watching movies.
Kempel joined the Army in 2007, fresh out of Florida, with the hope of helping others. Being a Fort Bragg police officer, she said, allows her to continue that work. It’s not unlike still being in the military.
“You’ve got to look out for the person to your left or our right,” she explained.
At 9:52 a.m., Kempel passed a Soldier with a cellphone up to his ear. At 10:04, she cited another service member for the same infraction. Nearly 30 minutes later, it was an Army spouse who had been conversing with her husband.
It’s situational awareness.
“To see stuff, you’ve just got to pay attention,” Kempel said. “Make sure you are safe; make sure other people are safe.”
North Carolina law does not yet require hands-free devices for cellphone use, she said. So, drivers cited at Fort Bragg don’t get points on their license.
“All we can do is to do the best in our area to deter the behavior,” Kempel said.
But, she has back up.
The Fort Bragg Driver Improvement Training Program was reinvigorated last year to address high-risk behavior while driving. Service members who are cited for exceeding the posted speed limit by 15 mph, are at-fault in traffic accidents resulting in injury or tow of a vehicle and those who fail to stop at a traffic control device are required to attend DIT.
Driving privileges on the installation are revoked for one year for those who fail to complete mandatory DIT within 90 days.
If a service member is caught driving on the installation with a suspended license, on-post driving privileges will be revoked for five years.
According to the Fort Bragg Installation Safety Office, 2,110 DIT notices have been issued since last October. Of those, 140 did not attend DIT.
But, the fight to keep Fort Bragg safe is a determined one, with law enforcement personnel, ISO and other leadership working to curb aggressive driving.
Stephens, for instance, said he has learned his lesson.
“When I leave here, I’m headed to Verizon to get a hands-free device.”
Following safety rules is beneficial to all who drive Fort Bragg’s roads.
“I know we have Soldiers who live on life’s edge,” said Tom McCollum, Public Affairs Office chief. “But, that’s no excuse for endangering those on post.”
A 10-year veteran of police work on the installation, Kempel plans to continue her work to help ensure safety.
She said, “I do this for the safety of the community. I don’t want anyone to be hurt because of distracted driving. I want to make sure that everyone makes it home at the end of the day to their Families.”