Besides the staff's attention to maintenance and safety rules, another protection that students have at the MSP range is a 3,000-pound metal cocoon that keeps them from spilling onto the pavement. Officers in motorcycle programs are not so fortunate.
There's a reason why emergency room personnel call two-wheelers "donorcycles;" motorcycle accident victims are usually young, reckless men with healthy organs and massive head injuries. But despite the bad reputation of motorcycles, their record in police work is much less bloody than it is in public transportation. Further, even though many officers entering motorcycle training programs are novice riders to the point that some have only a few days experience on "bikes," the safety record of police motorcycle training is impressive.
Officer Mike Cardoza is one of the motorcycle instructors at the California Highway Patrol academy in Sacramento, and he says injuries are infrequent and minor among his students. "We have some bumps and bruises every few classes," he says. "Accidents don't happen as often as you might think."
Cardoza attributes the CHP training unit's safety record to a number of factors. Classes are small, limited to no more than 15 students, and there are three instructors per class. Also, students are required to wear helmets and many students wear their ballistic vests while riding to protect against blunt force injuries. Further, instructors preride all routes looking for road surface hazards before the students hit the course.
Similar safety precautions are in practice at other motorcycle training programs. "We preride every area before we have the students ride through it," says Sgt. Timothy Curtis of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department motorcycle training detail. "Also, we take an extraordinary amount of time explaining what would be considered some of the more hazardous types of patterns such as the deceleration exercise and the cone weave exercise."
Both the LASD and CHP programs have another built-in safety feature. Students in both courses progress gradually through a series of increasingly more complex exercises. "We start off with the simplest of procedures," says Curtis. "If we have students who are doing really well, then we will advance them through the course. If we have students who are having trouble, we will spend more time with them, remediate them, or give them one-on-one training."
Perhaps the greatest safety precaution any vehicle trainer can take is to not let the student attempt maneuvers beyond his or her skill level. "For the beginning student, we want to see them learn the basics of how to ride the motorcycle before they take on more challenges," says Curtis.
MSP's Halliday agrees and adds, "We don't let students drive at 100 percent of their ability. Even on the streets, you should always drive at 80 percent of your ability. That's a philosophy that we teach here. If you're driving at 100 percent of your ability and you make an error, then there's no chance of recovery."