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Summer sees spike in motorcycle deaths

Jun. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Officer Aaron Maldonado of the Albuquerque (N.M.) Police Department demonstrates the proper use of braking for onlookers during the Air Force Safety Center's annual preseason motorcycle safety briefing April 25 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Officer Aaron Maldonado of the Albuquerque (N.M.) Police Department demonstrates the proper use of braking for onlookers during the Air Force Safety Center's annual preseason motorcycle safety briefing April 25 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (Keith A. Wright/Air Force)
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Airman 1st Class Chad Boles was working an overnight shift May 31 as a C-17 cargo crew chief with the 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Dover Air Force Base, Md., when he left for a meal break.

He never returned to work. Around 4 a.m., while headed back to the base, Boles apparently lost control of his 2008 Yamaha motorcycle. The vehicle struck a guard rail, throwing Boles from the bike, killing him, according to a state police report.

Boles, 23, had done everything the Air Force had asked of him to ride a motorcycle. He wore a helmet and a military-required reflective vest.

He completed Air Force required motorcycle safety classes and registered his bike through the motorcycle safety program.

But classes and helmets can’t always protect against those random acts where decisions are made in split seconds: to swerve if an animal jumps into the road, a momentary distraction, even an unnoticed bump or pothole in the road.

Unfortunately, Boles is not like-ly to be the last airman to die during the summer, which brings an increase in off-duty deaths. More than half of the 16 airmen killed while off duty last summer died in motorcycle crashes, said Keith Wright, of the Air Force Safety Center.

Each summer, the Air Force launches its Critical Days of Summer Safety Campaign to remind airmen to focus on safety while having fun, but the campaign does not require additional safety classes, Wright said.

Before airmen can ride motorcycles, they have to pass a government-approved motorcycle train­ing course offered by organizations such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Wright said. The training is not developed by the Air Force or by the Defense Department.

“Normally, the airmen who are going to do this, they have to contact their safety personnel or their motorcycle safety representative in their unit,” Wright said. “They will work with either the wing safety personnel or with their unit to arrange the training.”

Nine of the 16 deaths last summer involved motorcycles, two involved motor vehicles, two were classified as “sport and recreation,” two were listed as “miscellaneous” and one involved a bicycle, he said.

All of the airmen killed on motorcycles were wearing their helmets at the time, Wright said. The Air Force requires motorcycle riders to wear helmets both on- and off-base.

Over the past three years, the number of off-duty deaths during summer has remained relatively constant, according to the Air Force Safety Center.

The Air Force recorded 16 off-duty deaths during the summer of 2012, compared with 18 over the same period in 2011 and 16 during the summer of 2010.

So far this fiscal year, 12 airmen have been killed on motorcycles.

A total of 77 airmen have been killed in motorcycle crashes over the past five fiscal years to June 5, according to the Air Force Safety Center.

While the Air Force’s major safety campaign is in the summer, most motorcycle deaths since fiscal 2009 have happened during spring, according to statistics provided by the Air Force Safety Center.

The months with the most motorcycle deaths during that time period have been March, April and May. Almost exactly half of all motorcycle fatalities occurred before June.

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