By Spc. Jim WiltMarch 26, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 26, 2007) - Ask any paratrooper how softly he lands while parachuting and he'll quickly explain Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion: "An object in motion will remain in motion until an external force is applied." In other words, something has to stop the movement. And hitting the ground is not like landing on feathers.
Unfortunately, last year several paratroopers proved that theory correct while riding their motorcycles.
According to the Snell Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit, helmet-safety organization, the risk of death per vehicle mile is about 20 times higher for motorcyclists than for passenger-car occupants in a traffic accident.
The 82nd Airborne Division alone lost four Soldiers to motorcycle accidents in fiscal 2006. The numbers indicate that 25 percent of all reported motorcycle accidents involving a division paratrooper in fiscal 2006 resulted in a fatality.
Across the Army, 48 Soldiers were killed in motorcycle accidents in fiscal 2006, 20 percent more than in fiscal 2005 and 215 percent more than in fiscal 2004.
According to the 82nd Abn. Div. Safety Office, the division's paratroopers accounted for almost 10 percent of all motorcycle fatalities in the Army in fiscal 2006.
The four paratroopers who were killed in motorcycle accidents all made poor decisions, which contributed to their deaths, safety officials at Fort Bragg said.
Investigations revealed three of them had not been properly licensed, three had consumed alcohol, two were not wearing proper protective equipment, and speed was a factor in three of the deaths.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Henderson, the division safety officer, said the Soldiers made "selfish, undisciplined decisions. If you have the wrong attitude, you're going to do the wrong thing," he said. "They didn't think about the people who love them and they didn't think about the people who were counting on them."
State laws and military regulations prohibit the consumption of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle. They also regulate speeding and require motorcyclists to have motorcycle licenses.
North Carolina and other states also require motorcycle operators and their passengers to wear helmets.
Helmet laws vary throughout the United States, but according to the Department of Defense, all servicemembers are required to wear Department of Transportation-approved helmets as well as other protective equipment while riding a motorcycle, regardless of state laws.
DOD defines proper protective equipment for operating a motorcycle as a DOT-approved helmet with an impact-resistant face shield or goggles, a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, long trousers, full-fingered leather gloves or mittens designed for motorcycle use, and a highly visible upper garment during the day or a reflective upper garment at night.
"Helmets that are not regulated by the DOT can break up on impact and start jabbing stuff into your brain" in an accident, said Daniel Unger, a Motorcycle Safety Foundation master rider.
"If a Soldier goes to a state where there is no helmet law, it doesn't apply for him. He has to wear his helmet anyway," Henderson said. "For a standard to be maintained, it must be enforced."
As long as leaders see Soldiers disregard standards, and simply overlook noncompliance, "we're going to continue to have problems," Henderson said. "It takes every leader across the Army to stop Soldiers who are putting their lives at risk, and to make on-the-spot corrections."
Henderson also emphasized the role of young noncommissioned officers in making an impact on safety.
"For the young Soldier in a squad, it takes the squad and team leader to actively engage in safety - with the same attitude, attention to detail and enthusiasm as they do when they are getting ready for patrol in the middle of Fallujah" to prevent deadly accidents, he added.
"Would a sergeant allow you to jump out of an airplane without your helmet or parachute on'" Henderson asked. "So why would that sergeant allow you to ride your motorcycle without wearing a DOT approved helmet'"
Junior-enlisted Soldiers are not the only ones at risk on motorcycles. According to the Army Combat Readiness Center, two-thirds of all motorcycle fatalities in 2006 involved sergeants and above. Two-thirds of the Soldiers killed were over the age of 25.
The Army leadership provides ways for Soldiers to learn about motorcycle safety.
Fort Bragg offers two motorcycle-safety classes. The basic course for novice riders provides motorcycles for hands-on training. The advanced course, which is designed for more experienced riders, requires students to bring their own motorcycles and proof of ownership.
"This saves a guy from going down and riding a little 125cc at the basic rider's course and then jumping on a big 1800cc motorcycle that he may not be able to handle," Henderson said.
"Attending a motorcycling school is a proven method of preventing injuries for new riders and returning, experienced riders," said Snell.
According to the Army CRC, motorcycle-safety courses are required and provided at Army installations. All riders must meet the requirements of the MSF course, which is provided to Soldiers and DOD civilians free of charge before they operate a motorcycle.
DA officials are continuously trying to educate Soldiers on motorcycle safety.
"I have faith that the Army leadership takes this seriously," Henderson said. "I have faith that the NCO corps and officer corps take it seriously enough that they will ensure this information is disseminated."
"Motorcycles are fun and they are an economical way to travel, but Soldiers need to ride them safely," he said.
(Spc. Jim Wilt writes for the 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.)