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Marine Corps Spells Out Rules for Motorcyclists

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By Peter Biello

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/whqr/local-whqr-723041.mp3

Wilmington, NC – This year more Marines have died in car and motorcycle accidents than in combat overseas. To cut the number of deaths and injuries on the roads, Marine Corps headquarters issued rules that Marines on every base across the country have to follow. The rules emphasize safety and accountability. . .and promise heavy penalties for hot rodders who break them.

Almost every day at the Harley Davidson dealership a few miles from Camp Lejeune, a bell announces the sale of a new bike. On this day, the bell rings for Staff Sergeant Adam Kingstad, who is treating himself to a just-back-from-Iraq gift, a new silver and maroon Harley Street Bob.

"This is actually an upgrade. I got an '04 Sportster right now. I'm just getting something that cruises a little bit better for longer distance."

Until a few months ago, Marines just back from Iraq like Kingstad were considered most likely to die on the roads by seeking the adrenaline rush they found in combat. Then II Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lieutenant General Keith Stalder did some research and found that wasn't the case.

"There were Marines who had flagrantly disregarded Marine Corps orders with respect to either the operation or the ownership of the motorcycles. No insurance, no protective equipment," says Stalder. "They had not attended any of the mandated training."

So last April, the Commandant of the entire Marine Corps spelled out motor vehicle rules for every Marine, and Stalder backed him up in a Drive Safe Order for all Marines on the east coast.

"Until we did the Drive Safe Order there were a couple of different source documents on what was required and it was very confusing for the motorcycle riders, so I tried to clear that up and give them something that they new was correct."

The new rules make it difficult for Marines who've been used to hiding their bikes off base and avoiding requirements, such as taking the safety course, like the one going on in a parking lot at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, a dozen students line up in rows on identical Hondas. With long-time underground motorcyclists now coming forward, instructors say they'll be teaching a lot more classes this year, which means more money for the college.

In between lessons, Corporal Tim Labossiere says he doesn't mind following the rules. He signed up as soon as he bought his Harley Davidson.

"I have a storage unit out in town because I can't bring the bike on base without this class. So, most of us are here in this class just so we can get the registration on base."

On average more than fifty Marines have died on the roads since 2002, and at the current rate this year will see more than average. The Drive Safe Order came out less than two months ago, and it remains to be seen whether the it will make this year's number lower than average.

An orange vest like the one Adam Kingstad is eyeing at the Harley Davidson Dealership may make him more visible on the roads. He says he feels kind of weird wearing stuff that civilian riders don't have to.

"If I'm out cruising, I feel kind of out of place if I'm wearing all this reflective gear and all these other different things, but at the same time, I'd rather be seen on the road than look cool."

Sales of the reflective vests have jumped at the Harley dealership. Bike sales at this and other area dealerships have held steady, and not much else has changed. . . except now the Marine Corps may see fewer casualties on the road.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please e-mail us, we'd like to hear from you. news@whqr.org.