Motorcycle Safety Remains Top Priority for Defense Leaders

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
  • American Forces Press Service
Preventing motorcycle accidents and fatalities remains a top priority for Defense Department leaders, a senior defense official said today, with training and awareness reducing the number of incidents.

"We had seen fatalities and accidents increasing as motorcycle ownership increased," Joseph Angello, DOD's director of operational readiness and safety, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service. In 2008, the peak year for fatalities, he added, 124 service members died in motorcycle accidents.

"Since that time -- through training, through emphasis, through leadership [and] through the phenomenal work of our military services -- we've brought that number down," he said. "We lost 92 [service members] last year, and this year our trends look like we will be at that level or less."

Every loss is tragic and affects spouses, parents other family members, the service member's unit and the Defense Department, Angello said.

"We don't want anyone to lose their life in a motorcycle accident," he said. "We want them to drive safe; we want them to wear protective gear -- helmets, appropriate shoes, appropriate attire, and leathers. ... But sometimes, the best protection against a motorcycle accident is awareness, training and control. That's your best protection."

As a motorcycle rider since age 11, Angello said, he knows how much fun riding can be. But it's important for riders to respect the fact that motorcycles also are inherently dangerous, he added.

"It takes effort to ride a motorcycle properly," he said. "Accidents happen in the blink of an eye, [and] those mistakes are unforgiving." Riders who ride safely 99 times out of 100, he added, can experience a "high regret factor" the one time they don't.

The director noted motorcycle training is mandatory for all DOD personnel. In addition, military personnel are required to wear personal protective equipment, such as long sleeves, eye protection and helmets, even if they are in a "no-helmet" state.

"If you are a military member and you want to ride a motorcycle, you must have the training," Angello said. "Each of our services -- a lot of them are common courses -- have a basic motorcycle safety course. You must take it or a refresher course, an advanced rider course, or a sports bike course."

The Navy and Marine Corps developed the sports bike course in 2008 and shared it through the Defense Safety Oversight Council Private Motor Vehicle Task Force. "Sports bikes are phenomenal pieces of engineering, with power-to-weight ratios like we've never seen before," Angello said. "As a result, they are very dangerous. If ridden properly, it's enjoyment -- it's fun. But they are unforgiving."

Numerous deployments over the last decade have had an impact on the number of service members involved in motorcycle accidents, Angello said.

"We have noted, and other studies have noted, there is an increase in motorcycle accidents when people return from deployment," he said. "Our data shows [it happens] particularly within the first year when returning from deployment."

Theories as to why these fatalities are occurring include service members not having the opportunity to ride a motorcycle during deployment or the change in driving conditions when they're back home, Angello said.

"Others talk of theories such as, 'You become 'bulletproof' from your experience in theater, and you take more risks at home,'" he said. "Whatever the cause, we in DOD are taking it very seriously. When people return from deployment our leaders are ensuring people get trained."

Angello, who noted he has taken motorcycle training himself, urged all service members to take advantage of "some of the best training offered in this nation."

"Right now, the courses are for service members," he said. "Some of the installations, on a space-available basis, make arrangements for family members. However, any military member who has a dependent who wants to ride a motorcycle -- they should be trained."

Angello lauded military leaders for their commitment to addressing motorcycle safety for having "offered courses that make a difference in people's lives," and urged all military members to be ready to ride, just as they are ready for the mission when they serve in uniform.

"Ready to ride -- right equipment, right training, right conditions," he said. "Keep your awareness up, and you're ready to ride.