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Air Force motorcycle policies protect riders, others

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- According to the Department of Defense, there have been 50 servicemember fatalities resulting from private vehicle accidents since the beginning of the 2008 101 Critical Days of Summer safety campaign. 

Of the 50, only five were from the Air Force, a great reduction from the 19 fatalities our service experienced last year. Yet still, with the hard work and dedication we Airmen do to keep our force safe, it is still commonplace to see Ellsworth drivers placing their, and others', well-being in jeopardy. 

As August rapidly approaches, and we gradually start to hear the rumblings of thousands of motorcycles traveling our state's roadways en route to Sturgis, it is important to note the requirements Air Force members must adhere to when choosing to ride. 

A common misconception among Air Force members, who spend their time driving to and from Ellsworth, is that clothing requirements for military motorcycle riders end at the perimeter of the installation.

Air Force Instruction 31-204, Ellsworth Air Force Base Supplement One, and DoD Instruction 6055, DoD Traffic Safety Program, state civilians riding on base and all military members riding both on- and off-base are required to wear a properly-fastened Department of Transportation-certified helmet, impact resistant goggles or a helmet with a full-face shield. However, goggles or a full-face shield are not required for the operator if the motorcycle is equipped with a windshield equal in height to or above the top of the helmet of the properly upright-seated operator. Different states may have additional laws, though. For instance, in South Dakota, you must wear eye protection at all times while riding a motorcycle.

Riders must also wear a brightly-colored vest or jacket, worn as an outer garment during the day, and must wear a reflective vest or jacket of like color between sunset and sunrise. Along with the outer-garment, long-sleeved shirts or jackets, full-fingered motorcycle gloves or mittens and long pants must be worn. Finally, sturdy footwear must be worn - leather boots or over-the-ankle shoes are strongly encouraged. Soft-soled, slip-on or open-toed (i.e. sandals, flip-flop, shower shoes) are unauthorized.

It seems like a lot to take in and a pain in the neck. I'm sure many members ask themselves, "Why?"

After a discussion with a member of the First Sergeants Council, the answer was very clear: if a military member is involved in an accident, an investigating body will perform a Line of Duty determination to judge whether or not the military member was operating within regulations. If the member was injured and adhering to the regulations pertaining to the operation of his or her motorcycle, the DoD will have no issues funding the member's recovery needs. Those members found to be negligent may find DoD and Tricare refusing to fund medical expenses and possibly receive punishment under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for failure to obey a lawful order or regulation.

If the Air Force member was unfortunately killed in the accident, it is quite possible the DoD will deny payment to beneficiaries of the member's Servicemembers Group Life Insurance policy.

So when you prepare to hit the beautiful South Dakota countryside, remember to gear up, because you are a valuable member of our Air Force team. Have fun, be safe, and try to keep the bugs out of your mouth.