By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJune 30, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 30, 2016) -- Distracted drivers are one of the biggest risks motorists face on the road, and for motorcycle riders the risk runs even higher.
With no cage of steel offering protection, motorcycle riders face some of the most dangerous conditions when taking to the streets, and for Lt. Col. John McMahan, U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine assistant dean, and his wife, Stephanie, that danger became a reality when they were rear ended by a distracted driver on Fort Rucker May 21.
McMahan, who is an avid rider, and his wife were driving down Andrews Avenue on their motorcycle toward the Lemon Lot, and as he slowed to make a turn into the lot, he was rear ended by another car traveling at 30 mph.
The impact sent his wife flying off the bike onto the asphalt as McMahan was struggling to stay upright, before ultimately losing all control and slamming into the ground.
The injuries sustained by the couple were not life threatening, but were long lasting. McMahan suffered a hyperextended back, bruising and road rash, while his wife suffered from whiplash, a hyperextended back, light bruising to her head, and bruises and road rash across her body, including her elbows, legs and posterior.
"We're lucky to be alive," said McMahan. "We did everything right -- we were both wearing bright orange vests, we were very visible with my American flag and POW flag flying, and I was using my turn signal well in advance. You can do everything right on a motorcycle, but you can still be hit -- when you're hit on a motorcycle it's going to be far worse than if you were in a car."
The 18-year old driver who struck McMahan said she was "looking down, scratching her leg," according to reports, but whatever the reason, she didn't see the McMahans because of the distraction from driving, which can result in deadly consequences.
"There are young and old drivers out there who are distracted drivers," said the lieutenant colonel. "People driving cars need to keep an eye out for motorcycles. Life is precious, so if you're driving a car you need to be looking out because there are people on motorcycles, people on bicycles and people walking around, and if you're distracted you could kill somebody."
Rebecca Ghostley, garrison safety director, said that the four deadliest words are "I didn't see them."
"In this area, we have a huge number of riders. Car drivers should share the road and give riders plenty of room. Car drivers are found at fault in more than half of accidents involving motorcycles," she said. "People are always thinking 'It's not going to happen to me.' You can be the safest rider and still be in an accident; however, you can reduce your odds of serious injury by wearing protective equipment. Always assume that other drivers are not going to see you."
Before embarking on a ride, riders must remember to take all necessary precautions, make sure they know how to operate the vehicles safely and wear the right gear, said Ghostley, adding that it begins with protective gear and making themselves as visible as possible.
"If riders are cycling at night, they should wear reflective gear, and they should always wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, eye protection, gloves and over-the-ankle footwear. An armored jacket will offer additional protection," she said, adding that shoestrings on boots should be tucked in.
Another factor for motorcyclists to be concerned with is driving defensively.
Passengers should also be knowledgeable on motorcycle safety, said Ghostley.
"Passengers should be dressed in the same protective gear as the driver and they need to understand the handling characteristics of a motorcycle, such as leaning," she said.
Motorcycle safety courses are mandatory for Soldiers. There are three courses at Fort Rucker: the basic rider course, the experienced rider course and the military sport bike course. There's a regulatory requirement for all Soldiers who operate motorcycles to take the basic course. Then, within a year after taking it and every five years thereafter, riders are required to take one of the other two courses, depending on the style of bike they ride.
Soldiers can register for the courses online at www.apps.imcom.army.mil/AIRS/default.aspx.
For more information, visit www.rucker.army.mil/newcomers/motorcycles.html.
Despite having all the safety courses and gear, responsibility falls on everyone sharing the roads, added McMahan.
"That girl that day didn't wake up that morning thinking she was going to run into the back of a motorcycle rider (and) his wife, and in that instance she could have changed a lot of lives for the worse," he said. "It's important that people look out for others, because it could potentially save a life."