Vanessa Jones, right, a Cape Fox Professional Services motorcycle safety instructor, guides Navy Logistics Specialist 1st Class Lawanda Morgan through a limited-space, box maneuver exercise April 15 during an Experienced Rider Course on Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Bobby Jones/Air Force)
Smart riders are like smart shooters. They know they’ve got to keep training to stay on top of their game. Or, better yet, safely on top of their bikes. Riding, experts say, should be a lifelong learning process.
“It really is like marksmanship training,” said Ray Ochs, vice president of training systems for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. “We’re talking about perishable skill sets. That’s why we’re constantly emphasizing the basics and why we call our instructors rider-coaches. Any good coach is always going to come back to the fundamentals and then start fine-tuning from there.”
That’s why in 2009, facing a growing number of motorcycle deaths and injuries, the Pentagon ordered all the services to require basic motorcycle training for all military riders, as well as encouraging regular refresher training.
The move saw immediate results. The year before, 124 military bikers died in motorcycle accidents, with another 899 seriously injured. By the end of 2009, however, fatalities dropped 35 percent, with 80 bikers killed. An average of 87 have died annually since the new training requirement went into effect.
Injuries have also been dropping. Although there was a spike in 2010, over the last two years, an average of 839 troops have been hurt on their bikes, a 7 percent drop from 2008.
That’s not enough, leaders say. Worse, fatality rates have been edging up over the past two years.
So, beginning in January, officials tightened the rules even more, now requiring troops to get intermediate training and refresher courses.
“Most research will show you there’s about a six-month effect for training,” Ochs said. “When someone takes a formal training course, the positive effects tend to last for about six months and then they start to taper off. That’s why we believe in what we call safety renewal and getting that refresher training.”
With each course designed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, each of the services handles some of the details on their training courses a little differently — and they’re required of all riders, not just those who want to ride on base. Here’s how they break out:
Level 1: Basic Rider Course
Usually a two- to three-day course with both classroom and on-the-bike instruction, the BRC is designed to teach fundamental riding skills such as braking, low-speed maneuvering and rules of the road. Typically, trainer bikes are provided for the course.
Army: Required before buying or operating a bike.
Navy: Required within 30 days of obtaining a motorcycle license or learner’s permit or purchasing a bike.
Marine Corps: The Corps is required to provide the training within 30 days of a Marine declaring he is a rider or intends to become a rider.
Air Force: Required before riding a motorcycle.
Level 2: Basic Rider Course II
Also known as the Experienced Rider Course, this is usually a one-day class conducted on your own bike and is designed to hone skills learned in the basic course.
Army: Required within 12 months of completing the BRC.
Navy: Required within 60 days of completing the BRC.
Marine Corps: Required within 120 days of completing the BRC.
Air Force: Required within 60 days of completing the BRC.
Level 2: Military Sportbike Rider Course
Required for all sport bike riders in lieu of the BRC II. The vast majority of military motorcycle fatalities and injuries come on sport bikes. That’s why those riders have their own version of the Level 2 course with added focus on risk management and high-speed driving, Ochs said.
Level 3: Advanced courses
None of the services require this level of training, although it is encouraged. Some bases may offer it for free, but most troops will have to find it — and pay for it — on their own. The Navy, for example, has approved Lee Parks’ Total Control, which offers classes throughout the country, and the California Superbike School for advanced-level training. Schwantz School Level 3 courses are approved by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
Refresher training, which can be any Level 2 or Level 3 course, must be done every three years. The Army requires soldiers who have been deployed for more than 180 days to get refresher training before getting back on the road. While the other services don’t make it a rule, many experts think it’s a good idea.
“We encourage it, but we have not gone as far as requiring it,” said John P. Waltman Jr., the Marine Corps Traffic Safety Program manager.