Motorcycle safety is no accident

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lincoln Seals
  • 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron
It is the time of year here in the Eifel region when the rain has stopped, the temperature is increasing and the sun is shining. This time of year also brings out a special breed of people, in numbers that may seem almost overwhelming at times -- motorcyclists.

Germany is a motorcyclist's dream, and they come out in hordes with the warmer weather. This is a phenomenon that those who do not ride may have a hard time understanding; however, everyone must realize we are out there and we are not as protected as those of you in cars.

To remain safe, everyone motorcyclists and motorists alike must take an extra moment to make sure we are watching out for each other.

I work at the base fire department and am the son of an Army safety officer. During the past month, the number of accidents involving motorcycles and cars has terrified me. One of these accidents involved a host nation rider who was placed in the hospital in critical condition. Without the heroic efforts of a couple of people, he never would have made it to the emergency room. The same week, there were three more accidents involving four riders from the base -- this is a frightening trend.

In my experience this tells me a couple of things: riders are pushing their limits too far, and those in cars are not paying enough attention to notice travelers on two wheels.

For motorcycle riders, ultimately the responsibility for the risks involved with being a rider is ours. We choose to ride and put ourselves in situations that open us up to extra danger. I saw a quote once pointing out that riding a motorcycle is no more dangerous than anything else, but it is not very forgiving of mistakes.

As riders, we need to take a moment to look at our own habits and ourselves to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and prevent disaster. The first way to do this is with riding gear.

Air Force motorcyclists are always required to wear basic gear. Here in Europe, your helmet must meet European Union standards. If it does not, you can be fined. In the event of an accident, those riding with an unapproved helmet can be open to a "line of duty" inquiry. Riders are also required to wear long sleeves, pants and sturdy over-the-ankle shoes. This is a judgment call for each rider -- if you feel like you are okay in a long sleeve T-shirt and jeans, then that is okay. I choose to wear full armor, even if I am going to make a quick run to the shoppette. Gloves are also a requirement since all of us become useless to the Air Force if we cannot use our hands. Finally, we must wear "bright colored clothing" in the day and reflective material at night. I know, the orange construction vest looks stupid, but if it helps get me home to my children at night then I will always wear it.

Another problem rider's face is attitude. I love pushing my bike just a little bit, but we all have to make sure we are not pushing too far or putting others on the road in danger. Just because we can move through traffic quick, does not mean we should.

"White Lining," dangerous passes and riding beyond the limits of our bikes and our capabilities are all things to avoid. These actions put everyone on the road in danger, risks lives and give us all a bad name. One dangerous stunt in front motorists will help fuel the idea that all motorcyclists are speed freaks and careless about what we do.

Take the time to get to know your bike, know how it will react and know how to handle it in an emergency. Give yourself room in case of an emergency. Do not hang so close to the center line; give the car in front of you a little space and watch your mirrors for the person who may not see you at the light. You cannot prevent bad things from happening, but you can protect yourself when something does come up.

The sheer number of motorcycles here in the Eifel makes it hard not to notice us out there, but it does happen. We are harder to see so take the extra time to look again and make sure you are clear. Hang up your cell phone, put down your drink and focus on the road. One second of carelessness on your part could end my life or cause a debilitating injury. A motorcyclist can take every precaution in the world, but we are ultimately at your mercy.
The bottom line is that everyone needs to pay attention. We all have to share the road and we all need to watch out for each other. The last thing anyone wants is for the next accident to end up as a fatality. We have the chance to ride and drive in one of the most beautiful places in the world but we need to watch out, be careful, be respectful and enjoy the Eifel safely.

(Editor's note: To read more about required safety gear for motorcycles, see AFI91-207, Chapter 3.)