Motorcycles are a means of transportation; they move a rider from one place to another just as cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles do. Motorcycles are also a gateway to a culture that embraces the freedom of the open road that can only be appreciated by other riders. Exposed to the elements without the confines of metal, plastic and glass, riders are a breed unto themselves — and they know it.
Riders also know riding comes with risks. A well-known saying in the cycling community goes: “There are two types of riders — those who have gone down and those who will go down.” In other words, those who have crashed, and those who will crash if they ride long enough.
It’s no surprise that motorcycle riders wish to avoid accidents. Those freedoms riders enjoy also mean less protection in the event of an accident. Relatively minor injuries, such as a badly sprained ankle resulting from a motorcycle accident, can often result in months of physical therapy and wearing support braces; or the injury may never completely heal and cause mobility issues later in life.
Master Sgt. Brian O’Leary, Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, was recently charged with taking over up the company’s motorcycle safety program. A veteran with 20 years of riding experience, he has seen what can happen to Soldiers without the right mentoring and emphasis on safety. He recounted a time in Fort Drum, N.Y., when he found out two of his Soldiers had motorcycles — only after visiting them in the hospital.
“One challenge for leaders is getting the Soldiers to admit they have a motorcycle,” O’Leary said. “A lot of Soldiers don’t want to go through the extra inspections and supervision that come with riding.”
Not only is there extra supervision and inspections, Soldiers must also complete a progressive training regimen. They must complete a basic rider safety course before operating a motorcycle; and then they must take an advanced course within a year. There is also the requirement for sustainment and refresher training.
“Progressive training reinforces the techniques for safe riding,” said Jeff Speer, NETCOM Safety Office. Speer adds that riding skills are perishable, even when one rides regularly. People take short-cuts and develop habits when riding, sometimes leading to complacency and unnecessary risk-taking.
Those factors tend to result in motorcycle accidents, and continue to be a source of concern for leaders Army-wide.
“As a commander, my primary concern is that we as leaders are ensuring that our most trusted resources — our Soldiers, civilians, contractors, and Family members — are protected,” said Capt. Robert Vandenberg, Headquarters Company commander. “The establishment of a motorcycle safety program helps promote and foster an environment of safe motorcycle use for riders both on and off duty. Every leader and Soldier must be committed to and actively involved in the prevention of motorcycle accidents.”