CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 R. JAMES STEPHENS
F Company, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment
Fort Knox, Kentucky
As aviators and crewmembers, we are highly trained professionals. We do our job repeatedly to the point of muscle memory. The only thing that changes are the conditions or missions we fly. We are expected to operate with great attention to detail. But once we are off duty, why do we find ourselves taking risks we might not take on duty?
I was a state highway patrolman a few years ago in Arizona. Just before Christmas, my partner and I took a call for a fatal accident involving a motorcycle and an SUV. An ambulance service from Nevada was en route to the scene and would arrive before us. But for investigation purposes, we had jurisdiction.
The accident was on Highway 93 between Kingman and Boulder Dam, which is on the Colorado River, separating Arizona and Nevada. We left Kingman at a high rate of speed with our lights and siren on, cutting through the cold, dark desert. The drive was about 50 miles, so we knew it would take a while to get there.
When we arrived on the scene, traffic was backed up a couple miles in both directions and many people were standing outside of their vehicles. The scene was quiet except for a few vehicles that drivers had left on for heat. In the distance, you could faintly hear occasional radio traffic from emergency vehicles that had arrived about 30 minutes prior.
Emergency responders had already secured the scene and extracted the driver of the SUV. A Life Flight helicopter from Las Vegas was also just landing to transport the driver to a hospital. As I surveyed the scene, I noticed there was a large indentation in the SUV’s shattered windshield, and the driver-side door was caved in. The SUV was now off the road and turned 180 degrees from its original direction of travel. The driver’s air bag had deployed, probably saving his life.
The operator of the motorcycle was lying face up on the road. His bike was in pieces, scattered about 200 feet across the roadway. As I examined him, I noticed he wore most of his personal protective equipment (PPE). Unfortunately, he chose to wear a novelty helmet that did not provide appropriate protection. The whole top of the helmet was missing, as was the man’s upper cranium. Brain matter was lying in the road not too far from the body.
The man was traveling from Phoenix to Las Vegas, just as he probably had many times in the past. Witnesses said he’d passed them at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic before colliding with the SUV. Sadly, this lack of good judgment claimed his life. Now, his family and friends, as well as the driver of the SUV, will have to pay for that bad judgment.
I have been in Army aviation for many years. Over those years, I’ve seen numerous decisions and incidents that involved a lack of good judgment. Some paid the ultimate price for it, while others miraculously lived to see another day. My challenge to you is to always have a plan and execute it using sound judgment. With a good plan and sound judgment, you can’t go wrong. Don’t let your daily routine lead you to becoming complacent. Whether you’re riding, driving or flying, always think safety.
It’s clear motorcycle helmets save lives. To help protect riders, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all motorcycle helmets sold in the United States meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This standard defines minimum levels of performance that helmets must meet to protect the head and brain in the event of a crash. Helmets that meet FMVSS 218 have certification labels on the back.
Helmets manufactured on or after May 13, 2013, are required to have the new DOT certification label. It is important to note that some novelty helmet sellers provide DOT stickers separately for motorcyclists to place on non-complying helmets. In this case, the DOT sticker is invalid and does not certify compliance. In addition to the DOT sticker, labels located inside the helmet showing that a helmet meets the standards of private, non-profit organizations such as Snell or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are good indicators that it also meets the federal safety standard.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a pamphlet to help riders identify unsafe motorcycle helmets. To download a copy, visit the NHTSA website at https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/documents/14283-identify_unsafe_motorcycle_helmets_070919_v4_tag.pdf.