August 1, 2007:
side effect of the war in Iraq is increased off-duty deaths from motorcycle
accidents. Over ten percent of army personnel own a motorcycle, and that number
has increased rapidly since the invasion of Iraq. The reason is the large
amount of money many troops find themselves with when they come back from Iraq
or Afghanistan. In combat zones, there aren't too many things you can spend
your money on. Then there's the extra pay for being there. It adds up. If the
trooper isn't married (and about half are not) many arrive back home with up to
$50,000, or more, in ready cash. This leads to temptation, and that
temptationoften takes the form of a hot
new bike. Many troops return jacked up on combat and all the fast road movement
they experienced in Iraq.
In 2005, 149 army
personnel were killed in automotive accidents. While such deaths were reduced
16 percent last year, motorcycle deaths kept climbing, to 49 (39 percent of the
total) last year. Such fatalities are, so far, down about 20 percent compared
to last year.
So far this year, the
annual death rate for vehicle accidents looks like it will go down another ten
percent. But motorcycle deaths are still about a third percent of the total.
With the increase in
motorcycle owners, came in increase in owners grounds. There are now nearly
sixty motorcycle clubs for army bike owners. Attempts are being made to use
these clubs as a way to get the message out on the need for safer riding.
Another problem is that, higher gas prices have encouraged bike owners to use
them year round, instead of just during the Summer. In those parts of the
country with freezing Winters, that means increased accident potential because
of the ice and shorter daylight hours.
Troops have also used
those big paydays to buy SUVs and small trucks. The accidents for those are
also up, but not nearly as much as for motorcycles. While pounding away, as
only the army can, on safe driving, the brass have also realized that they have
to zero in on the twelve percent of the troops that have bikes, and convince
them to concentrate more on safety.