Marines work to lower motorcycle death rate

BEAUFORT -- After the deadliest year ever for Marines on motorcycles, the Corps has stepped up efforts to keep Marines safe on two wheels.

Twenty-five Marines --including a corporal at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island -- were killed on motorcycles during the 2007-08 fiscal year, making it the deadliest 12 months in Corps history, according to statistics from the Naval Safety Center.

It was the first time in five years that more Marines died in motorcycle crashes than in car accidents.

To curb a four-year trend of rising Marine deaths in motorcycle wrecks, the Corps has expanded a vehicle safety program that gives noncommissioned officers more authority over junior enlisted Marines.

Although it does not require participation by all NCOs, the program gives senior Marines the authority to allow or deny requests for leave or liberty and holds them accountable for the risky behaviors of those under their command.

The program also calls for tougher punishments under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for traffic violations, including revoking on-base driving privileges.

The extension of the program is the latest attempt by the Marine Corps to lower motorcycle fatality statistics, numbers that Commandant Gen. James T. Conway called "staggering" and "unacceptable" in a message to Marines in the spring.

In addition to requiring Marines to wear helmets and reflective vests, the Corps will provide safety training and instruction, including mandatory basic and experienced-rider courses and a new sports-bike safety course.

Twenty-two of the 25 Marines killed this year died on sports bikes, according to the Naval Safety Center.

The sports bike course, first offered at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort last summer, teaches riders of the high-speed performance motorcycles better braking and cornering skills.

It includes three hours of classroom time and five hours of riding instruction. Enrollment is mandatory for all active-duty Marines to maintain a base access sticker for their vehicle.