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A rider conducts a safety inspection on his motorcycle prior to the 110-mile group ride.

A rider conducts a safety inspection on his motorcycle prior to the 110-mile group ride. Photo by Steven Galvan

ISR holds semi-annual Motorcycle Safety Day

By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
03 MAY 2012

For more than 3 years, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR) has hosted one of the most dangerous, yet rewarding training events at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. On October 12, the ISR hosted its 7th Semi-Annual Motorcycle Safety Day; and once again, it was a great success. Since its inception, the program has grown from training offered only to riders of the ISR to training for all of the San Antonio Military Medical Center community. Other units from Fort Sam Houston have adopted the training plan, classes, techniques, and inspection program used by the ISR Motorcycle Safety Team.

The training starts at 6:30 a.m. with the arrival and registration of the riders, and then everyone moves to a classroom for the didactic portion of the course. Riders and non-riders are given classes on the previous year’s motorcycle accident statistics, helmet safety, lessons learned, and the dynamics of motorcycles. At the end of the classroom portion, the riders return to their motorcycles for the mandatory safety inspection. Riders and non-riders are given hands-on classes on the proper inspection of the different styles of motorcycles; and the riders must provide proof of insurance, registration, driver license with motorcycle endorsement, and the required level of Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training for their experience level.

Once the inspections are completed, the riders are given a final route briefing and then lined up according to the order given by the ride leader. Then it’s off on a 110-mile road trip on interstates and around Canyon Lake through almost every road condition possible; this is by far the most dangerous part of the training day. Upon completion of the ride, the group stops for an early dinner, after-action review, and final release for the day.

This year’s training was headed by Staff Sgt. Daniel Nelson, NCOIC of the Motorcycle Safety Team and burn respiratory therapist at the ISR Clinical Division. For 6 months, Nelson planned, coordinated and reviewed all the training for the safety day to ensure that there would be no problems, and he also reviewed and updated the composite risk assessment for the training to ensure that the ride would be as safe as possible. It took the entire 6 months since the last safety day to make this one a success, and Nelson and his team did an outstanding job.

For the ISR and many of the units around post, this training is one of the highlights of the year. It incorporates everything that a motorcycle safety and mentorship program should have. The training, research, coordination, and execution of this program is time-consuming and at times very dangerous, but it is what the Department of Defense (DoD) is pushing for to keep our military riders safe.

We train on everything else that we do in the military to be safe and to know everything there is to know about our equipment. How is riding a motorcycle any different? We need to push our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and DoD employees to learn about their motorcycles, practice maneuvering in emergency situations, and perform proper inspections and make the necessary corrections.

Is all that training enough? According to the amount of fatal and non-fatal motorcycle accidents in the past 2 years, the answer is a resounding “no.” With 39 fatalities in fiscal year (FY)2010, 45 in FY2011, and 49 in FY2012, there has been a steady increase in the amount of fatal motorcycle accidents in the Army. Compared to the fact that there were only 62 fatal vehicle (non-motorcycle) accidents in FY2012 all leaders should be alarmed.

Roughly 26 of the fatal motorcycle accidents involved sport bike riders, and the majority of them either ran off the road or collided with an object other than another vehicle. These statistics help to eliminate the old adage that it is normally another driver’s fault.

Operating a motorcycle safely revolves around training and practice. For “cruiser” riders, this can be as simple as going to a motorcycle dealership and finding out what safety classes are offered, going on group rides, and practicing braking and maneuvering in an empty parking lot. For the “sport bike” rider, it means taking it to the track. The road is not the place to practice turning at high speeds, knee dragging, and going 140+ miles per hour. Sport bike riders should get in touch with a riding group known as Ride Smart, which hosts track days all around the country. They should find out about open track days at local tracks, ride with a few cruiser riders (it will make them slow down a little), and practice their emergency drills in an empty parking lot. Lowering the amount of fatalities is going to require training, education, unit involvement, awareness, and showing riders how to be responsible.

The ISR has started coordinating its April 2013 Motorcycle Safety Day. For more information, contact Nelson, Popa, or the ISR Safety Officer (Stephanie Truss). We cannot wait to see you at the next training event. Until then, “keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. Dress for the accident, not the ride.”