Officials are worried the long winter will have soldiers overly eager to hit the road with their bikes, without taking safety precautions. (Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares/DoD)
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Multiple motorcycle-safety trends are heading in the wrong direction, and Army officials are stepping up efforts to reverse them by stressing mentorship programs and early leadership involvement — and getting soldiers to know their limits.
Command Sgt. Maj. Leeford Cain, CSM at the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, put out a letter April 22 noting a rise in fatal motorcycle wrecks over last fiscal year — 12 so far in fiscal 2014, up from nine at the same point in 2013. Ten of those involved noncommissioned officers, a “disturbing statistic,” according to the letter.
“This trend is unacceptable,” Cain wrote. “What kind of message is this sending to the young Soldiers in our formations?”
Shortly after the letter appeared online, a private first class became the 13th fatality. He went with a fellow soldier to purchase new bikes, an Army spokesman said, and they took a ride before undergoing the required safety courses. The E-3 lost control going around a curve. Army officials would not release any more details on the incident, not even a date or location, citing an ongoing investigation.
“We want our leadership to be proactive — get ahead of the curve, do the communication [with soldiers] before they buy” a motorcycle, said Lt. Col. Joseph Harvey, head of the safety center’s driving directorate, in an April 24 interview. Those leaders, officials said, should be smart about getting the word out, providing detailed information about when and where to take courses instead of just listing regulations, and finding a mentor in the unit — a job that should rely more on riding experience than rank.
Forty-one soldiers died in motorcycle-related mishaps last fiscal year, down from 49 in 2012. While the numbers are small so far this year, most incidents take place during the spring and summer riding season — one that’s just starting in parts of the country, thanks to a long winter.
The long winter is another issue that concerns safety leaders: Bad weather kept many bikes tucked away, and spring could have unprepared, eager riders hitting the roads a bit too hard.
“It takes a long time to knock that rust off,” said Steve Kurtiak, motorcycle safety program manager, who kept his advice simple: “Go out and practice. ... It’s important to refresh your skills as frequently as you can.”
All soldiers are required to take the Basic Rider Course or an approved equivalent before riding, according to Army Regulation 385-10. Further courses vary depending on the type of bike involved, and all soldier-riders deployed for more than 180 days must take a refresher course upon their return.