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United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Military Rider 2012

Published May 01, 2012

The Defense Department marks the start of prime motorcycle riding weather by designating each May as Motorcycle Safety Month. This special report highlights DOD and service-related efforts to enhance the safety and overall riding experience for service members and veterans through training, mentorship and education.

Skills, Training, Attitude Help Keep Motorcycling Safe

By Steven W. Duranceau
Air Force Safety Center
Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

Have you ever wondered why a terrible event, such as a motorcycle mishap, could end well in one situation, but in tragedy in another? Sometimes it’s just sheer luck. Most often, what influences the outcome is whether or not the motorcycle rider had the right skills, training and attitude. Personally, I try not to leave things up to luck. If your retirement plan includes winning the lottery, you’re in trouble!

Air Force Maj. Gen. Gregory A. Feest

Air Force Chief of Safety

"Operating a motorcycle is a high-risk activity and takes different skills than driving a four-wheeled vehicle. Airmen all over the world take the necessary safety precautions and enjoy riding their motorcycles. Unfortunately, every year we lose airmen to motorcycle accidents. Each motorcycle fatality impacts our units, communities and the Air Force family. Most of our accidents are due to a lack of training, poor riding skills and a risky attitude, most notably driving too fast for conditions. Here is what I need from our riders. As our greatest asset, we believe you will develop, the right skills, the right training, and the right attitude. As your chief of safety, I believe airmen at all levels will adopt and practice the concept of being a professional military rider. Remember, we need you here to get the mission done…stay in the fight and help spread the word to your fellow military riders!"

A great example – one that most people are familiar with – is from 2009 when pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger made an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Sullenberger maintained complete control and performed flawlessly in the rapidly evolving mishap, his actions saved the lives of the 155 people on board and countless on the ground. Was he lucky? Or, did he have the right skills, training and attitude? I say the latter; he handled this as if he had done it a 100 times before. You can bet that in his mind he had done this emergency maneuver hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

When you think about the right skills, training and attitude, you will see how they apply to almost anything you do and, most certainly, to high risk activities. Riding a motorcycle is a high risk activity even when the rider operates in the safest manner possible.

The right skills can be defined as the ability to proficiently perform a required task. The proficiency is acquired through training, experience or knowledge. The greater the task or the more risk associated with the task, the greater the skill requirements. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends riders look at their skill level rather than their riding habits. This practice is used to gauge a rider’s “Risk Offset.” Students attending MSF training learn to understand and maintain a “Good Risk Offset.” When a rider’s skill is equal to the risk, it is referred to as “Riding the Edge” – not a good thing; there is no margin for unexpected complications. A rider wants to always maintain a “Good Risk Offset,” where the rider’s skills are greater than the risk. (Click here for complete presentation, in Adobe PDF.)

The right training will help you become proficient in the task at hand. Would you choose a mechanic to perform any medical procedure on you? When it comes to motorcycle riding, you will be a better rider if you never stop learning, challenge yourself, take more advanced training and become involved in a mentoring program.

Finally and most importantly, is the right attitude. If you have the right attitude for riding, training and proficiency will fall naturally into place. When you ride, make sure your attitude is in the right place and your mind is on the task ahead. You want to be free of all distractions. Your attitude and emotional state will show through in your actions and riding strategies. A major cause of motor vehicle mishaps is driver distraction and riding a motorcycle is no different. The three types of distractions are visual, physical and cognitive. The one that contributes to most mishaps is the cognitive, a rider’s mind being on a task other than riding. A motorcycle rider’s best defense is a sharp and focused mind.

Keep an open mind. Just because you have been doing something one way forever, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right, or that there isn’t a better way. Ultimately, it is the rider’s responsibility to maintain the right skills, the right training and the right attitude to keep you aware, safe and alive.

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