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Air Force motorcycle mishaps hit historic lows

Graphic showing a motorcycle and helmet with text detailing FY19 motorcycle mishaps reach historic low.

In fiscal year 2019, the Air Force saw a 69% reduction in motorcycle fatalities and 41.5% decrease in lost-time injuries over a 10 year period. Fatalities dropped from 13 in 2010 to a record low of four in 2019 and lost-time injuries during that same period decreased from 224 to 131. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Keith Wright)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) --

Riding a motorcycle is an inherently dangerous activity that claims the lives of Airmen every year. Recently, the Air Force achieved a significant safety milestone when motorcycle mishaps reached historic lows.

In fiscal year 2019, the Air Force saw a 69% reduction in motorcycle fatalities and a 41.5% decrease in lost-time injuries over a 10 year period. Fatalities dropped from 13 in 2010 to four in 2019 and lost-time injuries during that same period decreased from 224 to 131.

“We have well over 22,000 motorcycle riders in the Air Force this year. While one loss is too many, four fatalities for 2019 is phenomenal,” said Michael Eckert, Air Force Safety Center Traffic Safety and Outreach Branch chief. “Our motorcycle safety program is effective and making a difference.”

Eckert went on to credit this major accomplishment to motorcycle riders, motorcycle safety representatives, leadership and safety offices working together on a program that provides Airmen the skills and knowledge necessary to operate motorcycles safely beyond beginner rider’s skills.

Since a change in Department of Defense guidance in 2013, Air Force safety efforts have required riders to complete training based on a lifelong learning approach; a result from multiple national studies, which found riding motorcycles a “perishable skill” that diminishes over time if not used.

“If you want to ride a motorcycle while in the Air Force, you have to be familiar with our training ranges, courses and motorcycle safety reps,” said Michael Ballard, Air Force chief of occupational safety. “The Air Force takes the lifelong learning approach seriously and the data shows it. Not only do we have a record low for fatalities, but our lost-time injuries are also at an all-time-low of 131.”

“Not only do we put the training opportunities in front of our riders often, but we try to make sure they have a great time doing it,” Ballard added.

The new training elements have three parts that focus on providing the right training, at the right time, on the right bike. Initial training takes an Airman from zero motorcycle knowledge to being able to balance and safely ride in traffic. This course occurs within 30 days of request and Airmen must have a motorcycle permit or license to attend. However, initial training is not required if Airmen already have a motorcycle license endorsement.

“A development many people may not realize is (that) the Air Force is moving away from providing the initial training and concentrating on intermediate and advanced training with riders using their own bikes, as long as they have a motorcycle license endorsement,” said Arthur Albert, Air Force motorcycle program manager. “This helps to ensure all attendees have made a commitment to motorcycle riding before showing up at the training.”

Intermediate training helps the rider fine-tune their skills and is provided within 60 days of request and never more than one year after completing initial training or being identified as a licensed rider.

Sustainment training, also called a refresher course, occurs every five years.

“Our program does well at keeping skills current and fresh,” said Master Sgt. Erik Petau, a rider coach at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. “All of my riders have taken something valuable away from it, whether it’s their first time or their tenth time.”

Petau believes riders show up to the training because they want to be there, not because they are required to be there.

To account for the scope of Air Force riders and their training, the Air Force developed the Motorcycle Unit Safety Tracking Tool in 2010. MUSTT is a database that provides all Airmen the capability of tracking completed and required motorcycle training, while also keeping a reliable count of current riders within the service. The MUSTT database is a component of the Air Force Safety Automated System, a unique electronic safety management system used to collect and maintain safety-related data, record mishap investigations and track mitigation and abatement of hazards for all safety disciplines.

In 2019, the Traffic Outreach Branch used its annual Spring Motorcycle Focus to encourage riders to update their records in MUSTT.

Albert said it worked like spring-cleaning, “Riders were reminded to finish overdue training. Motorcycle Safety Representatives were reminded to purge the records of riders no longer with the Air Force, and the service benefited from a more accurate picture of how many riders we have and what training is needed.”

The lifelong approach to education, tracking tools and focus on rider safety has ensured motorcycle riders, MSRs, leadership and safety offices are more informed and better prepared to execute their programs keeping Airmen safe wherever their two wheels take them.

Go to the Air Force rider page at https://www.safety.af.mil/Divisions/Occupational-Safety-Division/Air-Force-Rider/, or the Air Force Occupational Safety SharePoint site under Traffic Safety, PMV-2, to find information on courses, workshops, checklists and more.