NWC commander speaks out on motorcycle accidents

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  • By Col. Terrence A. Feehan
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Tragedy. In the past six weeks, two members of our Nuclear Weapons Center family have died in motorcycle accidents. Family members lost a father, son, brother and uncle. Three children are orphans. We lost friends, co-workers and vibrant, wonderful members of our Air Force family.

Why? The rationalization that we often use to cope with these tragedies is not there. Both were experienced riders who did everything right. There was no alcohol or drugs involved. They wore helmets, gloves, jackets and boots. They had been through proper training, participated in motorcycle events to keep their skills sharp, and possessed years of experience. One was killed by an inattentive driver, while the other died in a single vehicle accident on a familiar road.

Becoming a common problem. Across Air Force Materiel Command and our Air Force, we're seeing daily motorcycle accidents, and unfortunately, many involve serious injury or death. Sometimes they involve the inexperienced rider pushing the limits of their ability, but more often they are experienced riders obeying the rules and taking the right precautions.

Why, again? The accident and safety investigations simply point to too many vehicles on the roadway, people in too much of a hurry, lack of awareness of motorcycles, and the inherent fact that you're not very likely to experience a motorcycle accident without serious injury or death.

Reality. Fault does not determine who gets hurt in an accident. In 28 years of driving, I've been hit twice by red light-runners.

Both times I walked away unhurt because I had lots of steel, airbags and other safety devices to protect me.

Even if you do everything right, you're four times more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than a car accident.

What to do? Non-riders should work very hard to be cognizant of motorcycles. Drive with them in mind and look specifically for them before pulling onto a roadway, turning across traffic or approaching stop lights and signs.

Riders need to adjust their behavior to respect the realities of busy roads and rushed drivers. Wearing the right gear is not just a precaution, it's essential.

Always evaluate escape maneuvers and plan routes, ride times and street position to minimize exposure and maximize visibility.

Riders, please think about how to improve your riding safety, consider motorcycle compatibility with the realities of where you live and evaluate your life circumstances to understand the total risks involved to you and your family.

Non-riders, remember motorcycles are a legal and efficient form of transportation.

It is our obligation to develop skills that enable us to all safely share the road.