Maj. Jayson Coble of Springfield, Ill., the safety and occupational health manager for the Illinois Army National Guard, said motorcycle safety is important because motorcycling is inherently more dangerous. According to the Division of Traffic Safety, there were 145 motorcyclist fatalities in 2011, an increase from the previous year.
"You're riding on two wheels instead of four," said Coble. "An experienced rider once told me that when you're on a motorcycle you've always got to watch out for everyone else around you, because they're not watching out for you."
Soldiers are reminded there are specific requirements for riding a motorcycle when on duty, which includes travel to and from training, as well as riding on any military installation. In order to ride, Soldiers must have the "M" designator on their Illinois driver's license and must have completed the Basic Rider Course within the last three years. Coble said the 15-hour course is offered free of cost at many sites throughout the state from February through October every year. A refundable $20 deposit is required to hold a seat, and the course provides a helmet and motorcycle for student use.
"The course teaches a person who has never ridden a motorcycle before, by the end of the weekend, to ride by themselves confidently," Coble said.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ladd of Seymour, Ill., a driving instructor with the 129th Regimental Training Institute out of Springfield, Ill., has been an avid rider since graduating high school and said the Basic Rider Course is essential.
"I am a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-trained rider from the beginning," Ladd said. "I asked my father to teach me how to ride his bike. He told me when I turned 18, I could take a class from the state. I enrolled in the class after graduation and have been riding ever since."
Coble stated even experienced riders benefit from taking the basic rider course.
"The course teaches you things you may not have thought of before," Coble said. "Instructors talk about bad habits people get into after they've ridden for a while, and things certainly change over the course of time. After you've been riding for a long time, you can become complacent and complacency kills."
In addition to the course and licensure requirement, Soldiers must wear a helmet, eye protection, full-length pants, jacket, gloves and reflective gear. Coble said appropriate personal protective equipment is not only required, but will help save you in the case of an accident.
"I think the most important thing is a helmet," Coble said. "You have only one head, and that's probably the most vulnerable part of your body to injury and head injuries are the hardest to recover from if you survive."
Ladd echoed this sentiment.
"Buy a helmet that you'll wear," Ladd said. "It is the most important thing I've picked up as I became a more seasoned rider. I wouldn't wear a helmet if it was uncomfortable."
Ladd also said proper maintenance is another important part of safety, as well as riding alert.
"If there is any one thing to point out, don't ride when you're impaired," Ladd said. "If you make a mistake, there is no forgiveness."
More information can be found at http://safety.army.mil and http://www.msf-usa.org.