News: Easy riding into motorcycle season the Army way!
Story by Capt. Anthony Clas
FORT HOOD, Texas – As spring approaches and temperatures rise in the heart of Central Texas, motorists on Fort Hood and the surrounding communities should expect to see an increase in soldier motorcycle riders of all levels of experience sharing the road, but not without potential risks.
May is National Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month. On Apr. 28, 2004 Senate Resolution168, a resolution designating May as National Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month, passed through the 108th Congress.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages all motorists to safely ‘share the road’ with motorcycles and to be extra alert to help keep motorcyclists safe. Motorcyclists are reminded to make themselves visible to other motorists.
A recent study, conducted by the NHTSA released Nov. 2013, showed an increase from 4,630 to 4,957 injured and 81,000 to 93,000 fatalities in traffic crashes involving motorcycles from 2011 to 2012.
The increase in motorcycle rider injuries and fatalities includes soldiers stationed at Fort Hood during this time frame and the numbers are still rising.
“It has been six months since the last motorcycle fatality” said James Doherty, director of III Corps Safety Office. “Fort Hood fatal motorcycle accidents have increased from six in 2012 to seven in 2013.”
The common demographics of soldier motorcycle rider fatalities on Fort Hood are male sport bike riders, ages 22-27, said Doherty, who is a motorcycle rider with more than five years riding experience.
“The top three accident causes are [riding at] excessive speed, exceeding [one’s] abilities due to inexperience and failure to maintain following distance – all of which demonstrate a lack of self-discipline,” said Doherty. “The bottom line is that Soldier motorcycle riders are responsible for wearing the appropriate motorcycle protective equipment, outlined in the [Accident Prevention and Motorcycle Safety Program] III Corps Command Policy Letter, attending required training and operating their motorcycles safely.”
Determining trends in motorcycle rider accidents may seem like an easy task; however, there may be hidden factors.
“When you talk about trends you have the obvious and not so obvious,” said Greg Deschapell, instructor with the Army Traffic Safety Training Program Campus. “The obvious trends are speeding, not wearing PPE and when alcohol is involved; the not so obvious trends are inattentiveness, inexperience and things like that.”
The Motorcycle Safety Program Policy requires all active duty military personnel who intend to operate a motorcycle on- or off-post to be properly licensed, to wear the required personal-protective equipment and successfully complete motorcycle rider safety courses. The mandatory motorcycle rider courses for Soldier motorcycle riders are the Basic Rider Course, Experienced Rider Course/Basic Rider Course 2, Military Sport Bike Rider Course (sport bike riders only) and Motorcycle Refresher Training (after each deployment lasting six months or more). Violating this policy may result in punitive action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adverse administrative action or both.
“We have classes every week – we have Basic Rider Courses and ERCs every week and our MSRCs every other week,” said Sonja Skinner, lead rider coach and supervisor at the Army Training Safety Program Campus. “As long as you register there’s no waiting list, pretty much anyone who registers for a particular class that day is getting into class.”
The MSPP also requires unit leadership to appoint Motorcycle Safety Program Coordinators in the rank of sergeant or higher responsible for mentoring novice motorcycle riders on rider education and safety; setting the standard for responsible riding; advising soldiers on licensing, purchasing, and maintenance; and ensuringsSoldiers successfully complete appropriate training.
“A lack of training is the common trend to motorcycle accidents, even though we [Fort Hood] have a mentorship program and we do well with our mentorship program, there are still inexperienced people [motorcycle riders] that don’t take it [rider safety] seriously,” said Joseph Baez, telecommunications specialist, Network Enterprise Center at Fort Hood and motorcycle rider with more than 38 years of riding experience. “A lot of soldiers leave Fort Hood and don’t wear their PPE because they are with a [motorcycle] club or they’re riding with friends and want to look cool.”
Baez, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, veteran motorcycle rider and owner of a local motorcycle accessories business, knows first-hand that it doesn’t matter if a rider has less than one year riding experience or more than 30 years, accidents can happen at any time. On Aug. 25, 2011 at approximately 7:30 a.m. Baez was on his way to work and crashed his motorcycle near the Army Air Force Exchange Service Gas Station near U.S. Highway 190 and Clear Creek Rd. on Fort Hood.
“I was coming in [to Fort Hood] towards the Clear Creek Gate and the individual [motorist] was stopped at the stop sign talking on the phone and then came right out in front of me,” said Baez. “I was paying attention so I was able to avoid colliding with the vehicle, but in doing so I high-ended.”
High-ending occurs when the rear tire breaks traction, the bike goes out of line, and then regains traction; it then stands up immediately and throws the rider over hard.
“PPE is important – my head hit the ground, but the helmet saved my noggin; when my right foot hit the ground, if it wasn’t for my boots I would have shattered my right foot; and if I didn’t have gloves and long sleeves on, my hands and arms would have had a lot worse road rash than they did,” said Baez. “It’s just important – the helmet, boots and gloves, the protective gear is just important.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver. Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating.
“You have to ride as if someone is going to hit you, and if you ride that way you are more likely not to get hit because you are more aware of your surroundings” said Skinner. “You really have to pay attention to your surroundings and watch other people because they are not watching you. That’s the main thing; people just are not paying attention to you.”
The Fort Hood Motorcycle ATSTP Campus is located at Building 90069 South Mohawk Drive, West Fort Hood.
“To enroll in courses soldiers must go through their unit Defense Training Management coordinator” said Doherty. “You can't register at or through the training the site.”