An Unfortunate Turn of Events
MAJ. AARON KEARNEY
G3, Investigations, Reporting and Tracking
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
It was mid-summer and my wife and I were on my custom 2007 American IronHorse chopper during a group motorcycle ride through Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Our group of 11 bikes had been riding for most of the morning when we stopped at the local Harley-Davidson shop for a break and to check out the merchandise. After about 30 minutes, we decided to head back toward Panama City Beach, where we were staying. I was going to take lead this time, so I briefed the route.
My plan was to turn the group right (west) out of the Harley shop parking lot and travel about a mile to a large intersection with a stoplight. There, we would execute a U-turn and head east toward Panama City Beach. Everyone was good with the plan and we discussed who was going to be where in the riding formation.
As we pulled onto the road, I kept my speed down to allow the rest of the group to get out of the parking lot. Once we were all on the road, I began to accelerate. Just as I rolled on the throttle, the rider to my right started turning left into me. I attempted to turn with him, but due to the length of my motorcycle (almost 10 feet), I was unable to match him. In a split second, I decided to straighten up my bike.
Realizing we were going to collide, I kicked out my leg to protect my wife’s leg. My leg struck his front rim, causing his motorcycle to flip back to the right. He lost his grip on the handlebars and immediately low-sided the bike on the left, crushing his left ankle. I was able to keep my motorcycle upright and maneuvered into the grass median. Still not fully in control of my bike, I knew we had to ditch it. I held on to my wife’s arm and we both rolled off to the left side.
As she and I tumbled across the grass median, the bike flipped end over end three times and came to rest on the highway’s eastbound lanes. Thankfully, there was no traffic at the time because the light — the one where we were supposed to make our U-turn — had just turned green and the vehicles were now beginning to move. I immediately jumped up and ran toward my wife. After realizing she was OK, I checked over myself. My jeans were ripped and I had a large laceration (oddly shaped like a motorcycle rim) that covered my right leg from knee to ankle.
The rider who collided with us said he thought we were going to make the U-turn at a median turnabout, not the intersection. This was a failure on his part for not understanding the route I briefed. He admitted afterward that he was only half paying attention, just hearing we were going to make a U-turn on the road. His actions cost not only a lot of money in motorcycle repairs, but also the personal injuries we all received. He suffered a broken left ankle and road rash on his arms, legs and side. In addition to the cut on my leg, my wife and I had turf burns from rolling in the grassy median.
This accident resulted in some lessons learned for our group — the first being the importance of not only briefing your route, but also ensuring everyone understands all the details of the plan. Just talking about it as a group may not be enough. It is important to ensure everyone acknowledges the brief. In this case, everyone was present for the brief, but it was not completely understood by one member, and the results were almost deadly.
Second, we should not have been riding next to one another. If we had staggered our riding positions, this accident may not have happened. As we become comfortable with one another on the road, there can be a tendency to begin riding closer and closer to each other without realizing it. That was the case here. Our group had been riding together for a while. That comfort with one another may have led us to ride too closely. The incorrect spacing between motorcycles gave me less time to react when the other rider began turning into my bike. We must remain disciplined enough to resist this temptation to ride closer together and continue to do the right thing, even if you are comfortable with the individuals in your group.
Luck was definitely on our side that day. The lessons learned made us all safer riders, especially when we are in a group. Readiness Through Safety!