Riding Stupid Kills

Senior Master Sgt. Tony Levine, 315th Operations Support Squadron, demonstrates a cornering technique for the students of the motorcycle safety course. Sergeant Levine was one of 11 rider coach candidates to complete the motorcycle safety instructor's course hosted by Charleston Air Force Base.  (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mary Hinson, USAFR)

More than 80 Airmen across the Air Force have died while motorcycling in the last 5 years. For many of these Airmen, their last ride was a horrific, violent event resulting in dismemberment, massive trauma, broken bones and ruptured organs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mary Hinson)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There are many ways to kill yourself -- riding stupid is one of them.

According to a recent Air Combat Command Safety study, more than 80 Airmen across the Air Force have died while motorcycling in the last 5 years. The sad thing: in 63 percent of the cases, Airmen were willfully non-compliant; that is, they tempted fate with one or more of the following errors in judgment: excessive speed; alcohol or drugs; inadequate training or fatigue.

Unfortunately, for many of these Airmen, their last ride was a horrific, violent event resulting in dismemberment, massive trauma, broken bones and ruptured organs. The popular axiom, "live fast, die young, leave a good looking body," is rarely achieved in motorcycle deaths.

Motorcycling is dangerous and challenging. It takes coordination and motion to achieve stability on a bike. Unfortunately the gyroscopic effects of those two spinning wheels also make it more difficult to lean the bike into the turns -- go too fast -- miss the turn -- suffer the consequences. With too much speed your contact with the road decreases to a point where the slightest variation in the road surface -- a rock, a pothole, a slick spot -- can instantly change your intended line of travel. Your new line may include contact with another vehicle, a guardrail, a curb, a tree, a telephone pole, even a mailbox; often with deadly consequences.

When you mix in alcohol or drugs, fatigue or inadequate training it's like playing Russian roulette with many live rounds in the chamber. Motorcycling requires your full attention every millisecond and speed makes those milliseconds even more critical. If you fixate on something while riding, a common side effect while under the influence, you can easily stray from your intended line of travel. Add in a dose of slowed reflexes due to a drugged or fatigued mind, your chances of staying on the road are severely diminished.

If you leave the road, Personal Protective Equipment may not be enough. Remember, PPE does not make you invincible; it is designed to lessen the severity of injury to your body in a crash -- it can even save your life. However, when your PPE-protected head hits a fixed object at 50 mph the blunt force trauma can often be too much for your cranium to endure, resulting in skull fractures and ruptured blood vessels. Likewise, when your body goes from 50 to 0 in an instant, your heart keeps moving forward at 50 mph slamming against your ribcage -- your blood-filled aorta can burst like a water balloon. If you're conscious you may have a few seconds to think about all the things you wanted to do in life just before your de-oxygenated brain shuts down forever.

So, what's the solution? How about taking all the great risk management tools you learned at work and apply them off duty on your next ride. Get some training, gets some rest, gear up, pre-flight your bike, plan your route, ride sober, slow down; and above all "don't be stupid." When you consider all the other "stupid" people on the road who will challenge your skills as a rider, don't complicate the situation with your own stupidity. Think before the ride; then think throughout the ride. To quote John Wayne, "life's tough; it's even tougher if you're stupid."