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Crash Testing – Dress for the Crash

This article courtesy of the Naval Safety Center Smart Ride 2011 Magazine. Please also check out their website, the Naval Safety Center.

By MSgt William Potts

We’ve all had to sit through Safety Stand Downs and many of us have been the subject of ridicule because we choose to ride motorcycles. And we’ve all heard the clichés: Dress for the crash not for the ride. There are only two kinds of motorcyclists: those that have crashed and those who are going to crash. Well there’s a certain amount of truth to the clichés and those of us that choose to ride have a responsibility to do our part to break the mold and not become statistics.

Tuesday January 5, 2010 began just like any other workday for me. I woke up and went about my morning routine to meet my number one priority, which was to be on the I-5 heading south to MCAS Miramar from MCB Camp Pendleton prior to 0545. The reason for this is simple; if you miss the “window” for being on the I-5, traffic builds exponentially and your commute time is significantly increased. However, this was to be no ordinary Tuesday morning. I was about to become the first Marine Corps motorcycle safety statistic of 2010.

My jaunt down the I-5 to the 805 East was uneventful with light to moderate traffic. I exited onto Miramar Road and the traffic was unusually light. It wasn’t until I was less than a mile from MCAS Miramar’s East gate that things got interesting.

I was the third vehicle in line in the center lane stopped at the intersection of Miramar Road and Camino Sante Fe Road waiting for the light to turn green. Once the light changed, traffic proceeded through the intersection and I decided to shift from the center lane to the left hand lane. I checked my mirrors, turned on my turn signals, and performed a head check to ensure there wasn’t a vehicle in my blind spot. The coast was clear so I proceeded to make my lane change. Shortly after I changed lanes I felt a slight pressure on the back of my left arm as if someone were grabbing me. I started to turn my head to the left when all of the sudden my handle bars jerked violently to the full locked right position. A split second later, I was flying through the air trying to figure out what went wrong.

The next thing I knew I was sliding down the road on my back, watching sparks flicker off my “baby,” (that’s what I call my bike), trying to figure out how to get out of the way of the vehicle that was bearing down on me, and thinking that when I got run over it was really going to hurt!

I got lucky. The vehicle bearing down on me, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, evaded me by driving over the left side quarter panel of the car in the center lane to his immediate right.

Once I stopped sliding, I jumped up and got off the road to assess myself. Shocked onlookers tried to get me to sit down, but my only concern was getting my baby off the road out of further harm’s way. Thankfully, the Marine that I collided with helped me get my bike to the side of the road where we waited for the police.

So what went wrong? In short, two vehicles tried to occupy the same piece of pavement at the same time, which didn’t work out so well and we collided. The driver of the Jeep’s story was similar to mine except that he was far enough behind the group of traffic I was in that he never had to stop for the red light. He saw the same open lane I did and proceeded into it just like I did. From my perspective, I think he simply didn’t see me. That is often the case in crashes that are the fault of the four-wheel operator. Of course, there is the other possibility that I failed to see him and that I rode into him causing the crash. The accident investigation ruled us both equally liable. Admittedly, I was riding with my guard down because of the light traffic and my complacency was most likely a contributing factor in this crash.

After the police released us from the scene of the accident, I rode my battered motorcycle into work, garnering strange looks from the gate guard as I entered the base. Then I informed my chain of command and went to medical to get checked out. Once I returned to work with a relatively clean bill of health, the phone calls and emails started. You see, I wasn’t supposed to have a motorcycle crash. At the time I was 39 years old with 30 years of riding under my belt. I’ve attended the MSF’s Basic Rider Course (BRC), the Experienced Rider Course (ERC), the Military Sportbike Rider Course (MSRC), The Dirt Bike Rider Course as well as the ATV Safety Course. Oh yeah, I’m a certified MSF Rider coach for the BRC, ERC and the MSRC courses. It was incomprehensible to others that someone as “qualified” as I was to ride a motorcycle could be involved in any type of motorcycle altercation. The reality of my mishap is that training and experience will not prevent all crashes but it can stack the odds in your favor.

All in all my injuries were relatively minor compared to what could have happened; I most likely would have died if I had been run over! I was fortunate. I received a small abrasion on my left forearm caused by friction between my long sleeved shirt and the liner of my leather jacket. I had a bruised left heel caused by the right rear wheel of the Jeep driving up onto my left floor board which pressed my heel into my shifter and left engine case. Lastly, I had a massive bruise on my left hip/ thigh, measuring roughly 9 inches by 5 inches, sustained when I impacted the road. My baby, a 2005 Harley Fatboy, needed all of its sheet metal minus the tank replaced, plus other odds and ins totaling a little over $5,000. My new helmet, which only had 90 miles worth of ride time, was destroyed. My leather jacket, leather boots, leather gloves and chaps took the brunt of the fall and sustained only minor abrasions. Thank goodness for great gear!

THE BOTTOM LINE is that there is a steep learning curve involved with motorcycle riding and those of us who choose to ride must take responsibility for ourselves. We can do this by getting educated through rider’s courses and taking refresher courses from time to time; you might learn something new or break a bad habit that you have developed. Ride a motorcycle the fits you as well as your skill level. Don’t let others persuade you to ride beyond your comfort zone. If you feel the desire to push the limits, take it to the track. There you’ll be able to legally push the boundaries in a closed course environment with medical personnel on sight should they be needed. Always wear your PPE: (1) DOT/ SNELL rated helmet, (2) eye encapsulating shatter resistant glasses or face shield, (3) riding jacket, (4) full-fingered riding gloves and (5) over-the-ankle riding boots. Perform a pre ride check of yourself, making sure you’re mentally prepared to ride, of your PPE, ensuring that it is serviceable, and of your motorcycle, (remember T-CLOCS). Don’t ride distracted. Never ride complacent as I did. And never ride impaired by alcohol or other mind altering drugs.

My intentions here were not to get philosophical; they were to try to convey the lessons relearned from my accident and 30+ years of experience. There are inherent risks involved in riding a motorcycle and we’re all vulnerable, although we can mitigate the risks through education and training. Wear your PPE, but don’t just wear it because you have to. Wear it because it has a purpose; it helps to lessen the severity of injuries and it has the ability to save your life. No it won’t prevent all injuries or death but it will drastically reduce the severity of most injuries. Helmets in particular are the most important piece of PPE we can wear. Treat it as if your life depends upon it because it does!

Master Sergeant Potts is currently serving as the Avionics Chief at HMLA 469, MAG 3, MCAS Camp Pendleton.

Remembering A Friend – A1C Dustin Pierce

In late 2006, the Air Force lost a new member, due to a motorcycle accident. His name was Dustin, and he was my student at his career field technical school. He was only beginning his career in the Air Force, when it was cut short, way too soon.

An article about the accident
His Dad has a memorial site where you can learn more about Dustin.

Dustin is the 3rd from left

My bike blog has always had a focus on safety and education. I believe in ATGATT (All the gear, all the time), taking all the MSF courses you can handle, and doing all you can to remain safe.

I dedicate every mention of motorcycle safety and education to A1C Dustin Pierce, 1984-2006.

Road King vs Tractor Trailer

This article courtesy of the Naval Safety Center Smart Ride 2011 Magazine. Please also check out their website, the Naval Safety Center.


This is the story of how I about got taken out by a tractor trailer one morning last December on my way to work. I was on Highway 17 right in front of the back gate of Marine Corps Air Station New River.

I had just turned onto the highway, heading for Camp Lejeune at 0600, and I saw a row of reflective lights in the left turn lane. Then they disappeared as a set of headlights went across my field of vision headed into the back gate of the Air Station. Then all I saw was a white wall of tractor trailer.

I was still accelerating, but I quickly grabbed some brakes, slid on the front tire for about 20 to 30 feet, searched for an exit, then hit the brakes again as the cab of the truck had already passed through the traffic islands. The trailer must have been the longest allowed, as it was still in the median. All I could see was the bottom of the trailer (at chest level), trailer landing gear, and the spare tire cage hanging down under the trailer.

With nowhere else to go I had to lay it down. The left side of the bike and I slid on the crash bars and up under the truck. All I saw were sparks.

I hit the ground on my cell phone (which is still working fine but deeply scratched). As I slid and rolled, the right handlebar and mirror hit the bottom of the trailer and flipped the bike back over to the right side and continued to slide hitting the curb of the outbound lane of the base, and then it slid across the road into the median.

I jumped up and screamed toward the truck that amazingly, continued on toward the gate! A passer by stopped to make sure I was alright and helped me put my bike up on the kickstand. Then I took off running to the gate guards to get the MPs and stop the truck.

Lucky for me (note the sarcasm) it was 1 December and there were all new guards on the gates and no one knew what to do. As the sentry was calling the MPs, the truck was being inspected at the inspection station that is parallel to the street where the gate is. It felt like five minutes went by as I was pacing back and forth outside the guard shack (adrenaline pumping) but the sentry finally came out. I asked him if someone was coming and he said “I’m not sure.”

Just then I was looking through the guard shack and saw the truck pulling out of the parking lot. So I took off running through the ditch and wood line to the inspection lot to try to stop the truck. There were three Marines sitting there as I told them what happened and they said “We need to call someone.”

Just then an MP car pulled into the lot. I jumped in the car with him and we went out to the crash scene. As we were going out the gate he realized they had to call the county and/or state to coordinate the off base wreck.

Forty minutes later, the state trooper arrives, gets my story and then asks the MP if he had details on the truck. He had to get it from the log book at the inspection lot, but the info was bogus – a bad phone number and a license plate to the trailer, but not the cab.

At least the MP noticed that the truck driver was heading to the commissary, so he went to see if he was still there. He wasn’t, as over an hour had passed by now. He checked the log book again and found this truck driver was a regular and he was able to get the driver’s cell number and an 800 number for his company. The cell phone went straight to voice mail, but the 800 number was a good one.

They couldn’t reach him but had GPS on the truck and traced him in Warsaw, N.C. The state trooper caught up with him the next day and showed him the black mark under his trailer and said the guy about peed when he saw it. Claimed he didn’t see anything.

I ended up with two broken ribs and where my cell phone dug into my hip I had a deep bruise. On my right side I shredded my pants and ripped a hole in my leather jacket elbow and the palms of my gloves were blown out too. It was cold out that morning so I had Gortex gloves on. I have a raspberry about the size of a softball on the side of my thigh. And he didn’t see anything!?!

Nonetheless, due to my cat-like reflexes, advanced motorcycle training, AMOS (Advanced Motorcycle Operators School put on by Keith Code’s California Superbike School), and 22 years in the Marine Corps (where I learned how to fall), I walked away.

I’ve seen this stunt done on TV and in movies, and now I know it’s not that hard since I managed to do it in the dark, on my first try. I just didn’t come out the other side on my wheels.

The PPE I had on saved me from any road rash and the training and experience that I have prevented me from panicking. It could have been much worse.