The U.S. military, especially the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have a growing problem with motorcycle accidents, outside of combat. Over ten percent of army and marine personnel own a motorcycle, and that number has increased rapidly since the invasion of Iraq. Last year, 120 American military personnel were killed in motorcycle accidents, while off duty. That's a 23 percent increase over 2007. Last year, about twice as many American died in combat. For the marines, however, they lost more men to motorcycle accidents (25) than to combat in Iraq (20) last year. Many of the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan are from non-combat vehicle accidents. But the real road carnage is back home.
The reason for all this motorcycle madness 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 temptation often 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 or Afghanistan.
With the increase in motorcycle owners, came in increase in owners groups. There are now nearly a hundred motorcycle clubs for army and marine bike owners. Attempts are being made to use these clubs as a way to get the message out on the need for safer riding. The marines have also made it mandatory for everyone to register their bike with their commander. In other words, every battalion commander has a list of marines who own bikes, and is expected to make sure these young maniacs get safety training. Another problem is that, many bike owners 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 military 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.