High-Risk Environment

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump
  • Joint Staff Public Affairs
"You're in a high-risk environment where you could be seconds away from a fatal event." 

When Maj. Gen. Larry New uttered those words, it would be easy to think the general was talking about flying high-performance fighters. After all, he is a command pilot with more than 3,300 flying hours in the F-15 and F-16. But the dangerous scenario New spoke about was an activity that proved fatal for 18 Airmen in Fiscal Year 2007: motorcycle riding. 

The two-star general knows about the dangers of riding. When he isn't serving as the Joint Staff deputy director for Force Protection in the Force Structure, Resources and Assessment Directorate at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., New often rides his silver 2003 Harley-Davidson Road King on day trips around Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. 

He said part of the reason for his relatively brief four-year riding background is because of his respect for motorcycling and safety, adding that he probably wasn't mature enough to ride when he was younger. New is a stickler for protective gear. He said both his jackets have bright colors and reflective material, meeting military requirements. One is made of flowthrough mesh material that he uses in hot weather. The general said if he's not wearing a reflective jacket, he wears a vest with reflective tape from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.  Goggles are another of New's essential pieces of safety hardware. He swears by his Wylie X set, with interchangeable lenses for day or night use. 

He adds an optional item to his selection of riding safety gear - earplugs. As a fighter pilot, New is used to wearing them in the cockpit to protect his hearing.  He takes the same precaution for motorcycle riding.  

Fortunately, New hasn't had to test his protective equipment in a major mishap. He credits this success to using safety principles taught to every Airman. 

"I attribute that to applying the same Operational Risk Management principles to motorcycle riding that we use to manage risk in our Air Force activities," the general said. "We know in relation to the other vehicles on the road that a motorcycle has more risk, both in likelihood and severity of a mishap.  Therefore, I need to manage that risk to an acceptable level." 

The general said he uses multiple methods of managing risk. One is to study mishap statistics and learn from them. 

"For example, a large percentage of motorcycle mishaps occur at intersections," New said. "I try to pick a route with fewer intersections if there's an alternate route available." 

The Road King rider also said making sure there's an "out" is important because riders should always assume other vehicles don't see the motorcycle.  

"If there are multiple lanes, I'll pick an interior one with the least conflict from other vehicles turning into the intersection," New said. "In an interior lane, I shield myself with other vehicles in the outer lanes. I make sure to avoid camping in their blind zones."  

New said another tactic he always uses is something taught to every vehicle operator: defensive driving.  

"Constantly play the "what if" drill. Be ready to react and leave yourself an out," he said. 

New said riders should always be asking themselves questions like, "What if that car turns into me?"; "What if that car behind me doesn't stop at the intersection?"; and "What if that car runs a stop sign or red light?" 

Beyond having tools he can use in any situation, New said it's also important to know the local surroundings. For example, riding where wildlife are on the road presents a significant threat.  

"I've lived in two locations with significant deer populations," he said. "In many cases, the deer pose your highest risk. I try to avoid riding at dawn or dusk, when more deer strikes occur. I ride slower to decrease my braking distance. I constantly scan the roadside for deer motion. Though I've seen deer dart to and fro when on the run, I've never observed them completely reversing course. Therefore, my strategy is to steer toward their tail as an initial reaction." 

New, a graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, said he also periodically self-trains with motorcycle-handling drills to increase his riding confidence and become more familiar with maneuvering the 700-pound vehicle. He credits the training and tactics with enabling him to ride accident-free. 

"I can honestly say, using these techniques and several others, that I have avoided mishaps." The general said riding should always be approached from a very serious perspective because most accidents he's seen could have been avoided. 

"What concerns me most is that too many of our motorcycle mishaps are preventable,"  New said. "Every Airman is valuable to our mission. When we lose an Airman, either temporarily or permanently, it impacts not only the rider's family and fellow Airmen, but also the mission." 

New said there are parallels between flying an airplane and operating a motorcycle. 

"In low-level, high-speed flying, we're in a similar situation where we're seconds away from a fatal event," the general said. "There's a saying that if you find yourself comfortable, you're doing it wrong. The same is true on a motorcycle. If you find yourself comfortable, you're not paying enough attention to the looming threats around you."