By Lori Yerdon, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterMay 3, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 3, 2016) - Initially, Spc. Scott Burns assumed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic RiderCourse was just a "check the block" requirement so he could ride on post.
A novice rider, Burns did his due diligence after receiving his motorcycle license and attended the BRC offered at his duty station, Fort Rucker, Ala.
During his training, Burns learned "small things here and there, skills that you do not expect to ever use," he said.
"When I first found out it was mandatory to go to a motorcycle safety course, I was a little bummed out," Burns said. "But the interesting thing for me, during the course, I didn't dismiss any of the training. Instead, it was a kick in the pants and I thought 'oh, I might need this someday.'"
As fate would have it, his premonition would come true. Burns and his wife, Samantha, were involved in a motorcycle accident several weeks later.
"We learned how to swerve out of the way of other vehicles and how to miss potholes," he said. "And how to negotiate tight turns. All that stuff is great, and you don't think you'll ever use it until you use it."
On the evening of their crash, the couple set out on their 2007 Harley Davidson Dyna Low Rider to view the red moon, a rare super moon eclipse.
"We figured what better way to see it than getting onto a vehicle that doesn't have a roof," he said. "Once we got on the road, it was already dark.
"I was headed north on a highway when a man driving an SUV in the oncoming lane showed poor judgement and decided to pass a trailer," Burns said. "Suddenly we were in a situation that if I hadn't reacted accordingly, my wife and I would've been killed."
To avoid the oncoming SUV now in his lane, Burns made the split-second decision to go onto the grass.
"Typically, I wouldn't have thought that quickly," he said. "But the training I went through helped me make a decisive decision."
During the accident sequence, Samantha said she saw headlights and held on. Nevertheless, she was thrown from the bike, and Burns became pinned underneath it.
"As I was pinned, the foot peg caught in my boot and that probably saved me from a broken foot," he said. "Samantha got a bruise on her chin but I was less fortunate. I had some road rash on my chin and elbow because a rock found its way under my sleeve and put a thumb-size hole in my arm."
Despite their ordeal, the couple suffered only minor injuries. Both were wearing required personal protective equipment, and Scott was able to stand immediately, call 911 and tend to his wife.
He attributes the training he received during BRC to saving his life and said, "Without the instruction given to me at BRC, I'm not sure what I would have done or how the situation would have played out differently."
After attending the BRC, Burns recognized the importance of practicing riding with a passenger.
"When I asked my wife if she wanted to start riding with me, and she said yes, I explained to her that there's the risk that things could happen," Burns explained. "She said, 'Yeah, I get it.'"
Burns took his wife to the same area where he took the BRC and went through some of the drills he had learned, but this time with a passenger.
"I took her to the course and talked her through the movements. 'Lean with me, dig your heels in like this, hold on like that, and if we have to do this, you should … ,'" he said. "We went through a lot of scenario-based training."
"It really worked," Samantha said. "It was the first time I had been on a motorcycle, and at first I wasn't sure about riding on roads."
"I wanted to make sure she was comfortable with riding," Burns said. "As soon as she's not comfortable, then I'm not comfortable and she may start to do something that clashes with riding properly."
After the accident, Burns had a moment where he re-evaluated his desire to ride.
"Afterwards, laying on my back for a couple days, I really reconsidered riding. However, for me, the pleasure and freedom outweighed the risk," he said. "As long as you understand how to mitigate the risk of riding and understand what it takes, then that's reason enough for me to continue."
Risk mitigation is very important to Burns, and he has some advice for those who are thinking about buying a bike.
"Don't take anything for granted," he said. "Motorcycle riding is not something you just decide, 'Hey, I feel like riding a motorcycle today.' You shouldn't do the training for a check-the-block and then hop on a motorcycle to go have some fun without remembering what you just learned."
Since the inception of the Army's Progressive Motorcycle Program in fiscal 2011, motorcycle fatalities have declined steadily from a high of 45 that year to a low of 26 in fiscal 2015.
"Even though there's been a gradual decline of fatal accidents, we still lost 26 Soldiers to motorcycle mishaps last year," said Robert Myrick Jr., driving program specialist, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. "Eleven of those accidents were attributed to rider indiscipline."
Speed, failure to attend training, failure to wear PPE and alcohol were predominant factors in those accidents, Myrick said.
"It's important for Soldiers to receive motorcycle safety training first because it's mandatory, and second because how many advanced motor skills have we learned without some form of instruction," said Andrew "Smitty" Smith, lead traffic safety instructor for Fort Rucker. "Scholastic accomplishment, athletic endeavors, soldiering and vehicle operations all benefit from structured training, and motorcycling is no different."
And much like elite athletes, riders must continually hone their skills to stay on top of their game.
"Rider Education and Training System curricula promotes lifelong learning for motorcyclists," said Myrick. "The courses are one day, complement a rider's basic skills and help with personal risk assessment."
"To me, the entirety of thing is just understanding how to mitigate risk," Burns said. "If that's something people lack, especially when buying a motorcycle, then maybe they shouldn't buy one."