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Training and Education

Don't Become a Statistic

How the Navy is introducing mentorship in its motorcycle safety policy

When Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Brian Collins was a young Sailor in 1991 he made a decision that almost cost him his life.

Navy Photo

Graphic illustration by Willie Kendrick, Defense Media Activity - Navy.

He borrowed his friend's sportbike motorcycle and took it for a ride on the roads of Virginia Beach, Va. With little experience, no formal training, no motorcycle license or insurance, he drove the bike on some of the busiest roads in Virginia Beach.

He came to an intersection, travelling too fast, and made a right turn at a green light. Unfortunately, a car in front of him turned without yielding, driving into his lane and causing him to dump the bike.

He landed in front of the car's right front tire as it was turning, and the driver ran over him.

"I was screaming so loud that the person that was driving thought they were on top of me, so they peeled out and backed back over me," Collins said.

His injuries weren't immediately life threatening, but he was losing a lot of blood. He was transported to Virginia Beach General Hospital, where he spent 12 hours strapped to a gurney and a backboard as doctors stabilized him.

"I was 18 ... and they told me that I'd never walk again," he said. "And if I did walk again, I'd always walk with a cane or a limp. I wasn't trying to hear that ... because my goal was to retire in the Navy."

Unfortunately, Collins' story is still all too common in the Navy, with 18 Sailors and Marines having already lost their lives on motorcycles this fiscal year.

The Navy has been aggressively taking steps to reduce the number of motorcycle incidents since a spike in fatal crashes occurred in 2008. Shortly after that, the Navy and Marine Corps began offering the Military Sportbike Rider Course (MSRC) in 2009. It is designed to teach sportbike riders about safety and the specifics of the motorcycles they ride.

In addition to the Basic Rider Course, the MSRC is mandatory for all Sailor and Marine sportbike riders. The basic course is also mandatory for every Sailor and Marine who rides a motorcycle. Additionally, Sailors and Marines who ride "cruisers" must also take the Experienced Rider Course as follow-on training.

In the years since the sportbike course became available, motorcycle fatalities fell dramatically. In 2008, the fleet lost 33 Sailors and 25 Marines. The next year, when the MSRC became mandatory, the losses were cut nearly in half, with 14 Sailor and 14 Marine fatalities. In 2010, motorcycle fatalities were even lower.

Unfortunately, those numbers have been creeping back up. In 2011, the Navy saw 16 Sailor and 16 Marine motorcycle deaths, and 20 Sailors and 15 Marines died in 2012. The riding season for most regions has only just begun this year, but the fleet has already lost nine Sailors and nine Marines.