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Motorcycle crash deaths remain stubbornly high at Fort Hood

Deaths from motor vehicle crashes have fallen dramatically throughout the military over the past decade, with one glaring exception: motorcycle accidents. Motorcycle crash deaths — which in 2003 represented just about one-quarter of all military motor vehicle crashes — are now nearly as numerous as auto and truck deaths.

That trend holds at Fort Hood, where non-motorcycle vehicle deaths fell from five to four in fiscal 2013, while motorcycle deaths rose from six to seven.

The persistently high number of motorcycle deaths has stumped military leaders, who require service members to enroll in safety courses. At Fort Hood, riders must take up to three training courses, participate in a mentorship coaching program and wear fluorescent vests, helmets and eye protection. And soldiers returning from deployments must take a refresher course before riding again.

“We at Fort Hood have a considerable number of soldiers who ride motorcycles and tragically are involved in fatal accidents at all times of the year,” said Fort Hood senior commander Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi. “The chain of command is keenly aware of this challenge and is committed to mitigating risk by focusing on education, training and awareness as part of our overall campaign to build readiness and resilience.”

The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center concluded last month that the reason for the increase in motorcycle deaths remains unclear.

“By all appearances, the requisite policies and programs are in place,” officials said in their November Medical Surveillance Monthly Report. “Perhaps greater efforts need to be made to encourage those most at risk — young service members — to appreciate their own vulnerability.”

Experts have drawn a link between combat experiences and dangerous driving behaviors. Officials and safety experts have said that returning service members can struggle with driving outside a war zone, where aggressive habits such as fast driving, avoiding unknown objects on the road and not coming to a stop help keep soldiers alive.

A 2012 American-Statesman investigation found elevated numbers of recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have died in motor vehicle crashes after returning home from war.

Motorcycle deaths at Fort Hood

2013: 64 percent of all motor vehicle deaths

2012: 54 percent of all motor vehicle deaths

Motorcycle deaths militarywide

2012: 49 percent of all motor vehicle deaths

2008: 38 percent of all motor vehicle deaths

Sources: Fort Hood, Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center

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