Written by Dale Wisnieski
For over a dozen years, we have lost one or more of our Coast Guard members every fiscal year to fatal off-duty motorcycle accidents. In FY 2013 and 2014, we saw a 5-year high – 5 fatalities each year.
While some motorcycle mishaps are of no fault of the rider, the majority are due to lack of training, driving at unsafe speeds, alcohol consumption, failure to wear safety gear and failure to comply with state or Coast Guard safety regulations – all things that may be prevented if our members make a commitment to safe operation and risk mitigation.
As a small community, losing a member to any form of mishap has a significant impact on the command, friends, family and our organization. The trauma experienced by the loss can be hard to overcome, especially when the mishap could have been avoided.
This past May – Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month – the Coast Guard’s Office of Safety Assurance & Risk Reduction (CG-1131) launched an aggressive communications campaign aimed at recognizing the risks associated with motorcycle riding, and highlighting the measures and strategies available to reduce those risks.
The blog series introduced resources to understand the policies riders need to know, listed motorcycle safety training sites and options for getting outside training costs reimbursed, described some of the rewards associated with being a motorcycle riding mentor, and the responsibility of accountability.
Coast Guard personnel worked tirelessly to create or improve their motorcycle safety program in an effort to keep their motorcycle riders safe. And, it appears to have made a difference.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell, who spoke out about motorcycle safety in a video when the safety campaign was launched. “Our motorcycle-riding community is still intact as they continue to enjoy the pleasures of riding. This milestone would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our leaders, motorcycle riding mentors, safety professionals, and the entire Coast Guard motorcycle-riding community.”
While having zero motorcycle fatalities is an extraordinary accomplishment; not all motor vehicle program areas had the same success, as our organization lost two members in separate off-duty motor vehicle-related mishaps.
Moving forward, we need to incorporate elements of our motorcycle safety program into the motor vehicle safety program. Follow the same model: talk to your members, assist them in making travel plans, and establish programs to ensure members get home safely. Command, supervisor, and mentor engagement is critical and needs to be maintained at a high level. Committing to motor vehicle safety standards and remaining engaged is the only way to cultivate such positive results.
We can never lose sight of the fact that motor vehicles are the number one cause of fatalities in our service. You are encouraged to review your motor vehicle safety programs and, if you need additional information to improve any of your unit’s safety programs, contact your local safety and health officer or the Health, Safety, and Work-life Service Center.