By Lori DavisMay 16, 2018
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Motorcyclists here are no longer required to wear reflective vests or belts when riding.
U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca Commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Walters, announced the policy change for reflective vests and belts in April in advance of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May. Throughout this month, motorists will see volunteers at the gates informing motorcyclists of the change, ensuring they have proper insurance and other documents, and reminding them to ride safely.
The policy change is a response to research into motorcycle safety, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tyson Riemann, Director of Safety.
"After reviewing the accident reports, I couldn't conclude wearing reflective vests or belts would have prevented them. I just couldn't justify it as a safety measure," Riemann said.
That doesn't mean reflective material is not helpful, simply that the vests and belts previously mandated don't provide enough safety benefit to justify continuing to require wearing those specific items.
"Most of the motorcycle jackets you can buy have reflective material built in, so riders can get that but in a way that fits their own style," he said.
This is important because soldiers are required to abide by Army motorcycle safety policies around the clock -- even off duty and off post. Allowing soldiers to satisfy those policies and wear safety gear of their own choosing makes them more likely to follow the rules and enjoy the ride.
Riemann's analysis of accidents here is also backed up by extensive research done by others.
Transport Research Laboratory, a British organization that specializes in vehicle safety, engineering and accident forensics, conducted an extensive study of motorcycle safety. They released their findings in their report "Motorcycle Safety: A Scoping Study" in 2003. This exhaustive analysis compiled research data from multiple studies by a variety of researchers over several decades and arrived at the conclusion that reflective vests do not ensure greater visibility for daytime riders.
Reflective vests are only beneficial against a consistent background -- something you will not experience on the road. They concluded the use of headlamps, even during the day, was far more beneficial in getting a driver's attention. Riders wanting to increase visibility, especially at night, also benefit greatly from additional lighting mounted to the motorcycle body. Safety benefits increase when those lights blink or are unexpected colors.
The same study found that one of the greatest contributors to accidents is what was termed the "expectancy phenomenon" -- drivers simply don't expect to see a motorcycle on the road. Here in the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined in 2015 that motorcycles account for only 3 percent of registered vehicles. That means there are so few motorcycles in traffic that drivers are not accustomed to looking for them on the road. Drivers can help reduce accidents by being just a bit more attentive to these smaller vehicles.
As part of their 2015 report, the NHTSA found that many motorcycle fatalities are attributed to unsafe behaviors that are easily preventable, such as:
• 27 percent of riders did not have a valid motorcycle license, meaning they likely did not attend a safety course
• 42 percent were alcohol impaired
• In states without universal helmet laws 58 percent of riders killed were not wearing a helmet, compared to 8 percent in states with universal helmet laws.
• Helmets saved 1,772 riders but could have saved 740 more
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center reported a 32 percent increase in fatal motorcycle crashes in 2016, primarily due to those unsafe riding habits. Army leaders have identified safe motorcycle use as a readiness issue.
"A motorcycle crash can be a one-way ticket," said Col. Douglas R. Woodall, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca. "It can hurt a unit because they lose a soldier when he gets hurt and can't work or deploy. It can also be the end of that soldier's career. We don't want to see that happen."
Unit commanders counsel soldiers who own motorcycles on the importance of safety. Riders must have a valid motorcycle license, vehicle documentation, proper safety gear and documentation of attendance at training courses provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Soldiers must agree to abide by all policies and regulations in order to ride a motorcycle.
The reflective vest is no longer required, but these safety requirements detailed in Army Regulation 385-10 The Army Safety Program are:
• Wearing any type of headphones or using any listening device is prohibited with the exception of helmets with operator-passenger intercoms systems.
• Riders must have their headlight on, and their signaling lights must work. If the motorcycle does not have signaling lights then the rider must use proper hand signals.
• Wear a helmet approved by the Department of Transportation or Snell (look for the DOT label on the back) and make sure the chin strap is firmly fastened.
• Wear shatter-proof eye protection. If your helmet does not have a face shield you should wear wrap-around goggles. Glasses or a windshield alone are insufficient to protect your eyes.
• A soldier's Army Combat Uniform is made of heavy material and provides basic protection -- civilians should choose something similar that covers their arms and legs. Retailers sell specially designed pants and jackets to offer additional protection.
• Likewise, Army boots serve as good protection for motorcyclists. Civilians should choose boots that go above the ankle and provide good traction.
• Wear no-slip gloves that both ensure you can maintain control of your motorcycle and offer protection in case of a crash.
The NHTSA also recommends these additional steps you can take to increase your safety:
• Before you get on the road, ensure your motorcycle is operating properly -- there are no leaks or low, tires and your signals, lights and brakes operate. If you are carrying cargo make sure it is lashed down securely.
• Obey the traffic laws and ride defensively. Don't assume drivers see you. Be cautious when changing lanes and going through intersections. Always stay out of a driver's blind spot.
• People who ride in low-light situations should also wear bright colors or have reflective coating on their equipment. While reflective material is not as helpful during the day, it can make you more visible at night.
• Be sure to replace your equipment when it shows signs of wear. Safety gear that doesn't work properly is no longer safe.
• Alcohol and drugs, even those you are prescribed, may reduce your ability to ride safely. Anything that slows your reaction time, reduce your ability to control your motorcycle or makes you less alert puts you at greater risk.
• If you are carrying a passenger, make sure he or she is wearing safety gear and understands to hold on to your waist or belt and move with you during turns. Your passenger needs to use the foot pegs and move as little as possible during the ride.
Fort Huachuca provides further safety support through the Motorcycle Mentorship Program -- a volunteer initiative of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center that gathers new riders with experienced ones who can pass along their knowledge and wisdom. Mentors are officers or noncommissioned officers with valid motorcycle documents, a minimum of three years of continuous riding and who have successfully completed all of the necessary Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses. They must also know how to properly operate and inspect a motorcycle. Mentors promote safety through quarterly training sessions, inspections as needed, disseminating information and help with record keeping.
Woodall believes so strongly in leading by example that he serves as a mentor.
"I want to help riders build confidence through training. You might have ridden years ago, but you can't just pick up where you left off. You have to learn how to handle your new bike. The mentors observe and offer advice," he explained. "We also just like bikes and we are interested in checking out what other people have. Its fun to ride together and get to know each other."
These mentors are the volunteers you will see at post gates promoting safe motorcycling habits.
Each unit has a designated mentor wo can give you more information about the program and motorcycle safety in general. They plan their own unit activities to teach riding skills and socialize, turning the safety program into a riding club for the unit. Unit mentors are currently working together to plan a large-scale off-road event this summer. Civilians are welcome to get involved in the program as well.
To learn more, visit the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center's motorcycle safety page at https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/PMV-2.aspx.