By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetSeptember 23, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - After two motorcycle crashes claimed the lives of two Soldiers in recent weeks, experts want to make sure motorcyclists are doing all they can to stay safe by riding defensively and brushing up on safety skills.
A Fort Benning Soldier died Tuesday after losing control of his motorcycle on Interstate 185. The accident is under investigation.
A Fort Bragg, N.C., Soldier died Sept. 4 when he lost control of his motorcycle after exiting a curve.
Both Soldiers were licensed and trained, according to the preliminary accident reports.
According to U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center reports, 34 Class A personally-owned motorcycle accidents involving Soldiers have been reported for fiscal year 2010. Each resulted in a fatality. This number is up from 2009, when 29 accidents were reported with 29 fatalities.
The highest risk age group is 18-23, said CW4 Joseph Reese, of the safety center's ground task force, which analyzes data to determine trends.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of traffic fatalities resulting from motorcycle accidents has risen by 123 percent.
"Movies and television romanticize motorcycle riding - you see guys riding backwards shooting at people, or whatever the case may be - and people don't realize it takes something the size of a marble to throw your motorcycle down," said Mr. Mike Snapp, Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor at Fort Benning. "In the blink of an eye, bad things can really, really happen."
Mr. Snapp, a retired military policeman, said the "bulletproof" mentality leads newer riders to high-risk behaviors, such as speeding, but even seasoned riders can make mistakes by not keeping their motorcycles maintained, "zoning out" on the road or not wearing the proper protective equipment.
The most challenging situations for riders, Mr. Snapp said, is recognizing hazards on the road, such as road debris, traffic congestion and even vehicles themselves.
CPT Michael Phelps, a road captain with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, recalled an incident where a friend encountered a vehicle in her oncoming lane while out riding a motorcycle.
"(She) was coming around a sharp curve, someone was in her lane and she slid to get out of the way," he said. "She hit loose gravel and lost control of the bike. She was in physical therapy for a while after but she's fine now."
CPT Phelps, who is currently in transition to an assignment at Fort Benning, said he enjoys riding and sees the lure for younger riders.
"It allows me to get away from everything - if I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time, it's very leisurely for me to ride," he said.
"The concern I have and I've dealt with before in young Soldiers coming back from deployment, is that we have a problem with feeling invincible. I won't say it's a death wish, but a sense of 'nothing is going to hurt me'," said the road captain, who's been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Combat Vets, one of several local motorcycle clubs, promotes safe riding through group rides, he said.
"Sometimes when you ride together, you avoid the stupid things," he said. "Riding with other people tends to keep you in check because if you are riding with me and you're driving crazy, one of two things is going to happen: you will either stop riding with me or you will stop acting crazy. I, for one, don't want to eat concrete."
In his previous assignment at Fort Benning, CPT Phelps was in charge of developing his company's Motorcycle Mentorship Program. He said the Armywide program is one of the biggest resources for new riders.
The Motorcycle Mentorship Program pairs experienced, veteran riders with rookie motorcyclists.
CSM Richard Weik, the 198th Infantry Brigade's senior NCO, runs the brigade's mentorship program and said riding with experienced motorcyclists gives newer riders practical experiences and teaches them confidence on the road.
CSM Weik has logged nearly 25,000 miles since he started riding motorcycles at 16. On most days, he rides his 2001 Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide to work. He's never been in a serious accident.
His advice to all riders, novice to expert, is this: "Drive defensively. Regardless of whether or not your motorcycle is fluorescent orange, you're wearing a reflective vest, have the lights on - a lot of drivers don't see you."
Sign up for motorcycle safety courses
Many programs are in place at Fort Benning to teach Soldiers and civilians the rules of the road. The Motorcycle Safety Office offers four courses for beginning riders to experts.
Motorcycle Basic Rider Course - this three-day course combines classroom and simulator training with road time to teach new riders the basics of riding safely. The next course begins Sept. 27.
Experienced Rider Course - this one-day course includes road time and discussions. This course is open to graduates of the basic rider course only. The next course is Sept. 30.
Military Sports Bike Rider Course - this one-day course includes classroom training and road time. Students must have completed the basic and experienced rider courses. The next course is Oct. 21.
Motorcycle Refresher Training - this two-hour course is designed to "knock the rust off" your skills. It is mandatory for personnel returning to Fort Benning, whether they are making a permanent change of duty station or redeploying. This course must be completed within 30 days of arrival. The next course is Oct. 8.
Training motorcycles are available for students in the basic rider course, riders must bring their own bike for all other courses. Personal protective equipment is required (see checklist). Motorcycles must past inspection prior to starting the course. The Motorcycle Safety Office is located in Building 2748, Riordon Street, next to the Airborne inprocessing building. For more information, stop by or call (706) 545-0893. For course listings, visit https://airs.lmi.org.
Want to find a motorcycle club'
There are nearly a dozen clubs and associations in the tricommunity area, such as the Wingmen and Southern Cruisers Riding clubs. Many are discovered through word-of-mouth. The Motorcycle Safety Office is a good resource for information on riding clubs.
Think you're a safe rider' Take the quiz.
1. Drivers authorized to operate a motorcycle on an Army installation are required to complete:
a. Only state required training
b. Orientation Training by the motorcycle seller
c. Industry provided motorcycle-training course
d. An Army-approved Motorcycle training course
2. Traction is'
a. Tire loading expressed in pounds
b. Friction between the tires and the road surface
c. A combination of weight and centrifugal force
d. A direct function of the weight of the rider relative to the weight of the motorcycle
3. Slowly rolling on the throttle throughout a curve
a. Produces traction
b. Stabilizes the suspension, maintains ground clearance and prevents sudden shifts in traction distribution
c. Enables the rider to slow just prior to exiting the curve
d. Uses just enough traction to enable the bike to "stick" to the roadway as the curve is being made
4. To select a safe overall speed for a particular corner, the three speeds that should be considered are'
a. Roll, enter, and balance
b. Slow, lean, look
c. Approach, entry, exit
d. Visual, anticipated, actual
5. The major factors that determine how much traction is available are'
a. Gravity and road camber
b. Approach speed, lean angle, and ground clearance
c. Friction force between the tires and road surface
d. Motorcycle position, rider position and position of accessories
6. The minimum following distance behind the vehicle ahead is'
a. 4 seconds
b. 2 seconds
c. 12 seconds
d. 6 seconds
7. The most important piece of personal protective equipment for a motorcyclist is'
a. Face shield
d. All of the above
8. The requirement for motorcycle safety applies to Soldiers'
a. Off duty and on installation only
b. On duty and on installation only
c. At all times on or off duty and on or off installation
d. On duty or off installation on official business
9. The prime considerations when selecting an effective motorcycle helmet should include:
a. Cost and manufacturer
b. Type (full, three quarter, half shell)
c. Construction (plastic, fiberglass, Kevlar)
e. a and b above
f. b, c and d above
10. The largest cause(s) of single vehicle motorcycle accidents is (are)
a. The rider running wide in a turn and running off the roadway
b. The rider-riding while intoxicated
c. The rider not wearing proper protective equipment
d. The rider failing to yield the right of way to other vehicles
e. a and b above
Source: U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Answers: 1. D, 2. B, 3. B, 4. C, 5. C, 6. A, 7. B, 8. C, 9. F ,10. A