The Air Force Safety Center says there are more than 22,000 motorcycle riders in the Air Force. However, in 2019, the Air Force saw almost a 70 percent reduction in motorcycle fatalities, said Chief Master Sergeant Francis, the 188th Wing Safety Office chief.
One reason traffic fatalities have decreased is because in 2013, the Air Force began requiring riders to complete a motorcycle safety course and a refresher course every five years. Locally, military personnel can take the course at Fort Chaffee.
“In Fort Smith, we have about 50 to 150 riders take the course each year,” said Ed Upchurch, the motorcycle safety instructor at Fort Chafee. “About a third of our classes are female.”
To sign up for the course, contact the Safety office at 479-573-5127. Motorcyclists will fill out a formal training request and get permission from their supervisor to take the course, so they can be placed in a pay status. The course costs $200, but because it is required by the Air Force, the military will pay for the rider to participate. Riders must also have the proper gear to participate: a DOT Approved Helmet, long sleeves, long pants, full finger gloves, and boots that cover the ankle. If a motorcyclist prefers an open face helmet, eye protection is also required.
“Military members are required to take a motorcycle safety course before they can operate their motorcycle in duty status,” said Chief Francis. “Riders are not allowed on base until after they have completed the course. Civilians who work on base are also required to take the course if they are going to ride on the installation.”
Participating in the safety course significantly reduces beginning rider errors.
“In class, the biggest mistake is panic,” says Upchurch. “That comes from being nervous and lack of balance. Many riders struggle with turning their head, your eyes should be searching well ahead of you. “
The course is 15 hours of instruction and range time. Students begin with five hours of classroom training on a Friday night followed by two days of actual riding on Saturday and Sunday. Established motorcycle riders are required to have a pre-season briefing each year.
“I would encourage those who haven’t taken a safety course to take them no matter how long they have ridden,” said SSgt. Johnny Brauer, 288th Operations Support Squadron, who has ridden motorcycles since high school and currently rides a 2015 Harley Davidson road glide. “I learned quite a few things from both the beginner and advanced courses.”
Motorcyclists aren’t the only ones who need to stay vigilant and drive safely.
“If there was one thing I wish drivers knew is to look twice,” said Brauer. “Be aware of your blind spots and remember bikes stop faster than cars. Always be vigilant and aware.”
Upchurch agrees that riders need to share the road. “Riders don’t have a steel cage and only have 2 tires. We also have to deal with balance and weight of the bike,” said Upchurch. “Our bikes aren’t as wide as your car, but we have the width of our lane to maneuver. Share the road.”