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Motorcycle Wrecks a Top Cause of Non-War Deaths Among US Military

Part of the job of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, or AFHSC, is to keep track of illnesses and injuries suffered by members of the U.S. military. In a study just published in its peer-reviewed journal, the group noted an alarming new trend. Between 1999 and 2012, military service members were increasingly dying in motorcycle accidents, and the rate is going up.

Outside of war, motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death among military service members, and motorcycle accidents make up a large proportion of those fatalities. Just as with civilians, the number of motor-vehicle-accident deaths as a whole has declined substantially among service members since about 2005. Unfortunately, motorcycle-related fatalities have been skyrocketing.

The study included all who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or reserves at any time between Jan. 1, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2012. Over that 14-year period, slightly more than 25 percent of all motor-vehicle-accident deaths involved motorcycles. By 2012, fatal traffic accidents overall had dropped by nearly 58 percent from their 2005 peak. Unfortunately, the number of fatal motorcycle wrecks began to rise dramatically in 2010, and they now make up a growing proportion of traffic fatalities among service members.

In 2012, nearly as many active-component service members died in motorcycle accidents as in all other motor vehicle accidents combined.

It’s apparently not lack of training. Since 2009, the Defense Department has required all members of the Armed Services who intend to purchase motorcycles to enroll in, and attend, motorcycle safety classes. Unfortunately, no information was reported about whether the military motorcyclists routinely wear helmets, or whether any of those listed in the report had been wearing them at the time of their accidents.

The service members mostly likely to be killed in motorcycle accidents were Marines, according to the study. The largest numbers were among active-component, male troops between 20 and 24 years old. The study’s authors speculate that troops in this age group, many of whom have served in action abroad, are the least able to appreciate their own vulnerability.

Greater efforts may be required to help young military members understand the forces involved in a motorcycle accident. They might also benefit from practical training on safe riding techniques, the importance of protective clothing and helmets, and other steps they can take to keep themselves safe.

Source: Claims Journal, “Motorcycle Crashes Leading Cause of Death Among U.S. Service Members,” Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Dec. 4, 2013

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