Airmen practice stop-and-go maneuvering during a safety course at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The class is required by Air Force Instruction for all active-duty personnel who ride a motorcycle on or off duty. (Airman 1st Class Xavier Lockley / Air Force)
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Not all airmen who die are killed in combat. In fiscal 2012, 52 airmen died in ground mishaps. That means a motorcycle can be just as deadly as a roadside bomb or anti-aircraft artillery.
"The golden key to the castle of safety is the airman on the ground who's doing the job every day," said William Walkowiak, deputy chief of Air Force Ground Safety. "They get the message, they carry the message and they perform their own personal risk management."
Here are the five things you need to know about ground fatalities:
Vehicle crashes cause more deaths. Of the 53 airmen killed during fiscal 2012 in ground-related mishaps, 33 airmen died in motor vehicle crashes: 18 in motorcycle crashes and 15 in automobiles, according to the safety center. In more than 90 percent of both car and motorcycle deaths, "reckless behavior" was a contributing factor.
Alcohol is a factor. Alcohol was a contributing factor in 60 percent of car deaths and 17 percent of motorcycle deaths. "It's difficult to drive a motorcycle when you're drunk because you have to balance it," Walkowiak said.
Are smartphones an issue? The Air Force doesn't have much data on what role cellphones play in crashes. "At present, we have to get permission from the person involved with the mishap to go ahead and look at their phone records under legal requirements," he said.
Cycle deaths rise during spring. There was a "nasty" spike in motorcycle deaths last spring, Walkowiak said. "A lot of people don't ride, except in the southern states, in the winter," he said. That's why the safety center rolls out its motorcycle safety training each spring. The safety center holds two campaigns per year because, "if it's always emphasized, it loses its effectiveness," Walkowiak said.
On-duty fatalities are rare. One airman has been killed so far this fiscal year in an on-duty ground mishap, according to the safety center. He was struck by a boat Oct. 11 during survival training. "We have really very, very few on-duty fatal mishaps," Walkowiak said. "In fact, last year we went a full year 13 months without any fatal mishaps in the Air Force for ground safety."