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Motorcycle Safety - Staying Alive to Enjoy the Ride

14 February 2014

From MCC David Rush

Motorcycle safety has increased in recent years thanks to improvements to safety gear and training. But there is still room for improvement, says the Pacific Fleet’s safety officer.

PEARL HARBOR - Although great strides have been made in safety gear and training programs in recent years, Sailors and Marines continue to incur injuries and in some instances while riding motorcycles their lives come to an abrupt and tragic end.

Statistically, according to the Navy Safety Center, numbers for both have decreased, however there is room for improvement to reducing the numbers even further.

In 2013, there were 17 Sailor fatalities, less than half of a statistically much high number which reached a staggering 33 in 2008. Nonetheless, one fatality is too many according to Cmdr. Leo Murphy, Commander, Pacific Fleet Safety Officer.

“Even when riders wear the proper safety equipment and complete the mandatory training and refresher courses, motorcycle riding remains an inherently dangerous mode of transportation. Riding motorcycles is a high risk activity. The risks are inherent to riding and cannot be feasibly eliminated. The best preventative measure that a rider can take is to increase their riding skill level. That is best accomplished through training provided by professional instructors. Statistically, there is a direct correlation with the training the Navy provides and a reduction in motorcycle mishaps,” said Murphy.

He emphasizes importance of maintaining a high level of alertness and proficiency in order to avoid becoming a statistic. “Riding a motorcycle is not like riding a bike, it is better to learn the necessary skills to safely handle a motorcycle on a designated road course, than learning through "trial by fire" on public streets. Preventive training pays, especially for inexperienced riders who are most at risk during the first year of riding. Rider skills training is the best tool we have in preventing motorcycle mishaps,” Murphy said.

In addition to increasing the necessary skills needed to get safely to and from respective destinations, being in positive control regardless of level of experience and type of motorcycle is vital, according to Murphy. “First those who choose to ride must understand the risks they are assuming. Once that fact is acknowledged, a rider can then develop effective risk management practices. Risk management is an essential part of safe riding and lessons learned from motorcycle mishaps highlight this fact. Riders must recognize their skill level and develop a ride plan that limits themselves to within their safe operating limits.”

All Sailors know how to implement Operational Risk Management, or O.R.M, to their jobs at sea and shore. The same applies to risk management when riding a motorcycle. “This limit might be daytime group rides only or not riding on highways, or some other self-imposed limitation on when, where, and how a rider will ride. Understanding your limitations and determining the risks you are willing to accept will define safe riding and should be done before you get on a motorcycle. The use of sound risk management practices, rider vigilance, and training reduces the probability of motorcycle mishaps,” said Murphy. Although military personnel receive training, obey the rules of the road, and wear PPE, that doesn’t necessarily mean that others on the road will have the same level of alertness. According to Murphy, when we’re behind the wheel of motor vehicles, everyone needs to pay attention to what’s around them.

“In Hawaii we call that “Aloha Spirit.” It means for other four wheel vehicles to be careful and look out for motorcycles to help keep the roads safer for them. It’s sharing the road, slowing down, and not falling into lazy habits like not using turn signals. Recognize that mirrors in a car still allow for blind spots and to ensure a space is clear best practice is to turn your head and look into the blind spot.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and it leads to life ending consequences. “Tragically, two fatal motorcycle mishaps occurred when the drivers failed to see and turned into the rider. Changing the driving habits of motorists and motorcyclists alike will help decrease the number of motorcycle accidents. Motorcyclists are reminded to make sure that they are visible to motorists, and that they strictly follow the rules of the road,” said Murphy.

As for Sailors and Marines who intend on riding “two up,” training isn’t just recommended. It’s mandated. “Motorcycle riders must complete the two mandatory courses within 60 days after declaring intent to ride and then complete refresher training every three years. In fact, COMPACFLT policy directs service members who have not completed the required training to cease riding until all training is completed. Failure to do so is a violation of a general order. The training is designed to make you safer; why not want that and take advantage of it?” added Murphy.

CMDCM (SW/AW) Paul Kingsbury, Command Master Chief of the Naval Safety Center, echoes Murphy’s sentiments.

“As a non-rider, I would offer that each mishap has an impact on the Sailor, their command and their peers. When a Sailor is involved in a serious crash resulting in injury or fatality their parents, siblings, spouse, children and other relatives are affected. A deceased Sailor will never have to deal with the personal repercussions of their death. A Sailor who sustains life altering injuries may put additional burdens of health care and financial loss onto those same family members,” said Kingsbury.

In addition to the tremendous impact the loss of losing a Sailor has on family members, according to Kingsbury, that impact is greatly felt at the respective commands.

“Additionally, the Sailor's command loses an asset...a piece of the team, a watch stander, a subject matter expert, an influential leader. In some cases, this gap cannot be filled by the command and can result in the department or command unable to be fully mission capable, he said. “The loss of a Sailor also means other Sailors have to fill that void. Someone has to pick up the duties and responsibilities; someone has to stand the extra watch. The death or loss of a Sailor also has a psychological and emotional impact on the Sailors at the command, Kingsbury added.

In order to help minimize the possibility of injury, Kingsbury emphasizes the need for both beginning and experienced riders to take the risks seriously. “Riding a motorcycle has unique risks. Although PPE does provide some amount of protection, the high speeds, instability and exposure to the open environment motorcycle riders are exposed to makes the impacts of any crash much more severe.”

Bottom line according to Kingsbury, there’s nothing better than consistently applying proper techniques and lessons learned to enjoy the road safely. “Training and experience are the best methods of preventing mishaps. Command leadership should ensure that a proactive and healthy Motorcycle Safety Program is in place and that Sailors who ride are taking advantage of the training provided on our installations world-wide. I would also encourage newer riders to ride with more experienced Sailors until they have gained the experience they need to reduce the hazards of riding,” Kingsbury concluded.

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