Neither then nor now could I provide a logical answer to that question. Was I a new motorcycle owner? No, I'd been riding sport bikes for more than seven years. Was I trained to ride a motorcycle properly? I sure was; I'd completed the Army-approved Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced RiderCourse more than once and also taken the dirt bike course. Did I fit the demographic of an unsafe rider? Not completely.

Although my age put me within the target demographic of Soldiers between the ages of 23 and 33, I was considered an experienced rider. I always wore my personal protective equipment and wasn't labeled a high-risk Soldier. I was a chief warrant officer at the time and mentored many Soldiers in my company. Sure, I'd just come back from deployment and perhaps felt the need to blow off some steam. However, I should've considered some other method for doing that. At the speeds I was traveling, had I been distracted or needed to make a slight correction, I'd have ended up the subject of a preliminary loss report.

The thought of costing my unit some of its combat readiness wasn't enough motivation to stop my high-risk activities. Despite the safety briefs I'd given or heard presented by my commander, I chose to push the limits on my bike. By my actions, I contradicted what I was telling my Soldiers. What finally snapped me back into reality was the thought of leaving my wife without a husband and my kids without a father. I didn't want to miss spending the rest of my life with them.

So, what will it take for us to understand that when we push ourselves to the limit on our bikes, sooner or later we're going to lose? Whether it's safety videos put out by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center or realizing our Families are more important than our need for speed, we -- especially us sport bike riders -- need to change the way we ride. If we don't, someone higher up will do it for us.

Look at the PLRs -- the statistics don't lie. Motorcycle accidents and fatalities are a big safety concern. In fiscal 2010, 39 of 153 PLRs -- more than 25 percent -- reflected motorcycle fatalities. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we shouldn't buy and ride motorcycles. I still ride and I love it. However, we need to choose to ride safely and responsibly. If we don't, we might not get the option in the future.

The Army is losing too many Soldiers and, with the training we receive, we should be smarter than this. We're provided the MSF's basic, experienced and sport bike courses for free. When we return from deployments, we get refresher training through newly created mentorship programs. Still, for some reason, too many riders decide to test themselves by pushing their bikes to the limit. I was lucky, but statistics and PLRs show many riders are not.

I decided to discuss my mistakes openly to encourage others to ride responsibly. Fortunately, I wasn't hurt and my wakeup call came in time to make a difference. Please don't let your wakeup call come too late.

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Just the Facts

Operations Research and Systems Analysis
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Fort Rucker, Ala. (386 words)

In fiscal 2011, there were 178 motorcycle accidents, including 47 Class A (an accident resulting in a fatality, permanent total disability or $2 million in damage), nine Class B, 93 Class C and 29 Class D accidents reported to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. These accidents resulted in the loss of 45 Soldiers. There were also 122 Soldiers who received nonfatal injuries as a result of these accidents. In addition to the loss of life and injuries, these accidents cost the Army 1,504 workdays, 518 days of hospitalization and 3,556 days of restricted duty for the Soldiers involved.

Of those who died, the majority (42 of 45) were enlisted. Of those, 26 were sergeants and below. Additionally, nine were staff sergeants, six were sergeants first class and two were master sergeants/sergeants major. Three Soldiers who died were either commissioned or warrant officers. While the youngest fatality was 19 and the oldest was 48, 13 of the Soldiers who died were 23 years old or younger. The average age of a motorcycle crash victim was 30.2 years old. Most of the victims had completed the required training, wore personal protective equipment and were licensed to operate their motorcycles.

However, four Soldiers weren't wearing helmets, four didn't have a motorcycle operator's license and five hadn't completed Motorcycle Safety Foundation training. Twenty-six fatalities occurred during daylight hours, 16 occurred at night and the remaining three occurred at dusk. One in four fatal accidents involved Solders who had redeployed within the previous 180 days.
Sport bike accidents accounted for 23 fatalities.

In fact, 10 Soldiers were killed while operating a Suzuki GSX-R-series motorcycle. Cruiser accidents accounted nine fatalities, with six of those Soldiers riding Harley-Davidsons. In 13 fatal accidents, the motorcycle type wasn't reported.

As summer begins and more Soldiers take advantage of the warm weather to ride their motorcycles, there will likely be more accidents. Of the 45 fatalities in fiscal 2011, 29 died between the months of April and September. Riders must remain vigilant for other vehicles while operating their motorcycles and observe local traffic laws. Leaders must ensure that all riders follow Army regulations and policies when operating motorcycles.

Page last updated Thu May 31st, 2012 at 11:11