Beyond the Standard
STAFF SGT. BRAD WORTHINGTON
649th Engineer Company
California Army National Guard
The Army has consistently pushed motorcycle safety since I enlisted. We have motorcycle safety banners hanging in facilities and leaflets and posters tacked onto bulletin boards. Soldiers are exposed to statistics stressing the impact motorcycle accidents have on Army readiness as well as the devastation to families, friends and units. I want to share how the Army’s motorcycle program impacted my family.
I’ve enjoyed motorcycling for more than 30 years and consider myself a very capable rider. At first, I begrudgingly complied with the Army’s directives by purchasing all of the required personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training. I was actually surprised how much I learned from my instructors and fellow students in the MSF’s Basic RiderCourse. I became a better rider immediately. Then, in August 2019, I was involved in an accident.
I was traveling on a road when a civilian driver failed to stop and broadsided me. I have no memory of the impact, but I faintly recall sliding, rolling and laying prone in the street immediately afterward. Fortunately, the vehicles behind me stopped and provided protection from oncoming traffic.
While the motorcycle policies defined in Army Regulation 385-10 did not prevent me from being in this accident, I believe they did help lessen the severity of my injuries. My PPE protected my head, face and skin (most of it), though I did injure my back, broke six ribs and suffered a collapsed lung. The pain was nearly unbearable, but I survived. The following are a few areas of motorcycling safety that could help save your life in a situation similar to mine.
The most important piece of motorcycle PPE is the helmet. I followed my MSF instructor’s advice and purchased a full-face helmet. For many years, I’d ridden with a half helmet. After my accident, I inspected my helmet. The impact marks and scratches around the chin and faceguard are a reminder of how lucky I was that I made the change. Sliding on asphalt at 35 mph is something you should avoid — but still be prepared for — if you ride a motorcycle. I’m certain my accident would have turned out much differently had I worn a half helmet.
I also didn’t suffer any road rash on my legs or hands because I was wearing protective gear designed for riding. Unfortunately, I was not wearing an abrasion-resistant shirt or jacket. I only wore a long-sleeved shirt that provided very little protection. As the nurse was scrapping the asphalt from my wounds, I remember thinking that it was punishment for not being better prepared. I will have the scars to remind me of that mistake for a long time.
After learning I intended to ride again, my girlfriend began searching for more protective gear. She wanted me to purchase something that would have protected my ribs and lungs. She found a Helite vest that contains air bags that are designed to inflate in the event of an accident. The air bag chambers are intended to protect riders from chest trauma and also support the neck and back. According to the Helite website, 40% of serious injuries and fatalities from motorcycle accidents are due to chest trauma.
If you are going to ride motorcycles, please consider going beyond the minimum Army standards, which include a Department of Transportation-approved helmet, eye protection, long-sleeved shirt or jacket (garments made from leather or abrasion-resistant materials are recommended), long pants, full-fingered gloves and sturdy over-the-ankle footwear. I would suggest wearing a full-face helmet, abrasion-resistant pants and the air bag vest or jacket with high-visibility graphics or colors. I was lucky and got another opportunity to get my PPE right. You, on the other hand, may only have one chance.