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Sgt. Toyomasu Masashi of the Nagasaki prefecture mobile traffic unit instructs Sasebo Naval Base residents on motorcycle safety Thursday.
Sgt. Toyomasu Masashi of the Nagasaki prefecture mobile traffic unit instructs Sasebo Naval Base residents on motorcycle safety Thursday. (Travis J. Tritten / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Danger can appear suddenly when you’re riding a motorcycle.

Late one night last year, Gunnery Sgt. Roger Ralls made a sudden stop on a street in Okinawa. The driver behind him didn’t stop.

The vehicle plowed into Ralls, and the Marine spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from the accident.

Ralls, assigned to the Sasebo-based USS Juneau, said a metal rod in his leg reminds him to be more aware when riding his Harley-Davidson.

Sasebo Naval Base hopes its safety training will take the place of painful — and sometimes deadly — motorcycle accidents.

Its efforts have paid off, authorities said.

Navy officials and local police credit the training for the recent absence of motorcycle accidents.

The base has teamed with Nagasaki prefecture motorcycle police for three years to teach riders how to stay safe on Japanese roads. During that time, no servicemembers or civilians have been involved in a motorcycle accident on or off base in the Sasebo area, safety director Jim Whalen said.

Meanwhile, servicemembers and civilians have been involved in 125 four-wheel vehicle accidents in the past year alone, he said. Whalen, a certified motorcycle instructor for 34 years, recently lost a nephew to a deadly motorcycle crash.

“When it gets close to home, you pay more attention,” he said.

Ralls and about 15 other motorcyclists gathered at the base Thursday for tips and instruction from Nagasaki police riders.

The annual course teaches riders how to maintain their vehicles, stop quickly and maneuver. Base officials said the course can be used as credit toward motorcycle certification, which is required to ride in Japan.

All servicemembers must be certified through a basic rider’s course and an experienced rider’s course, Whalen said. The certifications must be renewed with eight hours of course work every three years, he said.

The cooperation with Nagasaki police has led to a decrease in traffic accidents in the Sasebo area, said assistant police inspector Yasunaga Masuhiro of the Nagasaki prefecture mobile traffic unit.

“I hope you will ride safely in the future,” Masuhiro told the riders through an interpreter.

Ralls said he hopes to apply the lessons with Masuhiro and the other police officers toward his experienced rider’s certification.

For more information on motorcycle safety, courses and certification, call the Sasebo Naval Base Security Office at DSN 252-2704.

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