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Hawaii Military Leaders Urge Motorcycle Safety: It's a Matter of Life and Death

23 October 2013

From Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Johans Chavarro

U.S. Army, Pacific (USARPAC) will be hosting a Motorcycle Mentor Safety Ride Nov. 7 and extended an invitation to all Oahu for all Sailors, Soldiers, Airman, Marines, and Coasts Guardsmen living in the Hawaii area.

PEARL HARBOR - U.S. Army, Pacific (USARPAC) will be hosting a Motorcycle Mentor Safety Ride Nov. 7 and extended an invitation to all Oahu for all Sailors, Soldiers, Airman, Marines, and Coasts Guardsmen living in the Hawaii area.

The event is being hosted to provide leaders and motorcyclists general information and guidelines to develop a safe and disciplined riding culture within military organizations and is designed to help reduce motorcycle accidents that lead to injuries and fatalities.

Regional Fire Chief Fletcher Dahman, Federal Fire Department Hawaii, spoke about the prevalence of improper motorcycle riding in military organizations as the emergency personnel routinely respond to motorcycle related incidents involving service members.

"When we get the call for a motor vehicle accident, a lot of time we don't know that it's a motorcycle incident until we get there," said Dahman. "But we are seeing a lot of motorcycle accidents and unfortunately, a lot of them involve military. The "need for speed", as 'Top Gun' showed, [service members] play into that. I've got some that buzz me by as I go home on the H-1 daily, in uniform obviously. They are not invincible, though they think they are."

The Naval Safety Center reported 38 Sailors and 25 Marines were involved in private motor vehicle (PMV) fatalities last fiscal year. Of those, 31 involved 2-wheel vehicles.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert A. Duenas, USARPAC, said, "The biggest safety violations I see motorcycle riders make are failure to wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and traveling in excess of the posted speed limit."

Duenas said PPE gives the rider the minimal amount of protection required by state laws and, when coupled with military regulations, possibly minimizes injury in the event of an accident. The proper wear of PPE reduces the likelihood that an accident on a motorcycle is fatal, but does not eliminate that possibility.

According to Navy Traffic Safety Program OPNAV Instruction 5100.12H, all active duty military riders and passengers, on and off base, and all riders and passengers on any Department of the Navy (DON) installation are required to wear a helmet meeting DOT regulations, protective eye devices designed for motorcycle operators (impact or shatter resistant safety glasses, goggles, wrap around glasses sealing the eye, or face shield properly attached to the helmet), sturdy over the ankle footwear that affords protection for the feet and ankles and a long sleeved shirt or jacket, long trousers, and full fingered gloves or mittens designed for use on a motorcycle.

Duenas also says proper safety training is essential in keeping motorcyclists safe, and compliant with military regulations, regardless of branch of service.

"I would remind them that riding is a privilege earned through training and discipline. I would also tell service members who are new to riding a motorcycle that they are required to inform their commander that they ride and to get with their unit mentors to find out what training is required. Most service members do not realize that there is training required by Army regulations outside the normal state required training for them to ride a motorcycle while in the Army."

In accordance with OPNAV Instruction 5100.12H, all military and civilian personnel motorcycle operators must comply with all host nation or state licensing requirements. All military personnel who operate a motorcycle on or off base, and all DoD civilian personnel who operate a motorcycle on base are also required to complete a Command Navy Safety Center (COMNAVSAFECEN) approved motorcycle rider safety course prior to operating these vehicles.

Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Ryan Winters, a motorcyclist with eight years of experience stationed at Defense Media Activity Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, says one of the most common safety violations he sees occurs in traffic.

"A lot of time you see people ducking in and out of traffic on a sports bike, because they just want to go fast. You really can't do that because people don't see you," says Winters. "The other thing I see people do a lot is they'll ride in blind spots. Motorcyclists will come up behind a vehicle to the left and they'll sit in a car's blind spot and the car never knows they're there."

Something motorcyclists can do to make themselves more visible to cars is to, "wear something bright; and make sure that you get in the mirror of the cars," said Dahman.

"Dead in the middle and straight behind them does not work, they need to be able to see you," said Dahman. "It is great to ride a motorcycle, I used to long ago but I got to the point where I could not trust the people in the cars around me. So if you're going to keep riding know that they are not seeing you."

To help decrease the number of motorcycle related accidents, the Navy revised its Traffic Safety Instruction, OPNAVINST 5100.12J, requiring commands to set up mentorship programs for motorcycle riders. The program is designed to give experienced riders the opportunity to teach new riders how to be successful on their bikes.

"Motorcycle safety is extremely important, especially for young Sailors, but education is only part of the equation," said U.S. Pacific Fleet Master Chief Marco Ramirez. "Awareness and experience of your surroundings, including other drivers is just as important. I want each of you, whether you're a motorcycle rider or not, to pay attention, avoid distractions like texting and cell phone usage, respect your environment and watch out for other drivers. Working together, we can help to avoid tragedy in the future."

Safety is an important element of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative which consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency and hone the most combat-effective force in the history of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department of the Navy is working to aggressively to ensure today's Sailors and Marines serve in the safest, most secure force the Department has ever known.

For more information on Navy motorcycle safety policy and requirements, as well as a personal story of one rider who learned some important lessons the hard way, check out All Hands Magazine Online.

For the latest statistics on personal motor vehicle fatalities as well as narratives, visit the Naval Safety Center.

Help raise awareness by joining the conversation on social media using #NavySmartRide and #Motorcycle.

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