Military motorcycle riding courses zero in on safety
April 5, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 3, 2013) -- From 600 to 900 Soldiers take a motorcycle riding course every year through the Maneuver Center of Excellence Safety Office. The goal is to encourage safe driving and, ultimately, fewer motorcycle-related injuries and deaths.
"Approximately 75 percent of the Army's fatalities are associated with riding a motorcycle or driving a car," said Brian Blanton, safety and occupational health specialist for the Safety Office.
"The Army Traffic Safety Training Program is required for all Soldiers who operate a motorcycle on or off post, on or off duty, anywhere in the world. It's another tool for Soldiers to better and hone their riding skill."
The tool comes in different packages. First is the Basic Rider Course, which is mandatory for all Soldiers.
Within one year of completing the class, Soldiers follow up with either an Experienced Rider Course or a Military Sport Bike Rider Course, depending on the type of motorcycle they ride. They repeat the second course every three years.
"These courses ensure Soldiers are getting the proper training to be able to ride safe," Blanton said. "It talks about avoiding accidents and what you need to do in looking four, eight, 12 seconds ahead."
Mike Snapp and Wes Lee teach all three courses, which include both classroom instruction and hands-on learning. Between the two instructors, they have nearly 80 years of motorcycle riding experience.
Spc. Erika Spencer graduated from the two-day basic course Wednesday. Even though she's been riding for a few years now, she never received any formal training. The Houston native said she wished she'd taken this class before ever getting on a bike.
"I didn't learn techniques when I first learned," she said. "I just jumped on the bike and learned that way. But the techniques are really coming in handy -- head and eyes up, look where you're going, scan your surrounding areas, using both your hand and foot brakes at the same time and keeping your good body posture. It helps you be in control of the bike rather than the bike controlling you."
Spencer rides a Honda 600 sport bike. She said most people see riding a motorcycle as purely a leisure activity, but it can be dangerous without the proper knowledge.
"It's really an automobile that can get you hurt if you don't know exactly what you're doing -- and how to do it the right way," she said. "Technique is everything."
Attached to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, Spencer redeployed a few months ago from Kuwait. Several of the other riders in last week's course also recently returned from deployment.
Slots in the course were saved for returning Soldiers, Blanton said, so they could attend it during or immediately following reintegration training.
"It's good timing for the Soldiers to receive this training after returning from deployment and prior to going on leave," he said.
The 3rd ABCT Soldiers who were signed up for the courses were those identified as wanting to buy a motorcycle when they returned.
"The leadership of 3rd Brigade coordinated with MCoE Safety so the Soldiers would be trained prior to purchasing a motorcycle," Blanton said. "This prevents Soldiers from being 'ghost riders' -- riding without anybody knowing."
Spencer said the course was useful and recommended it to all riders, regardless of experience level. It improves reaction times and a range of fundamental skills, she said, and can help break bad habits.