by Senior Airman Steve Bauer
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) — On a sunny and dry Saturday afternoon last August, an Airman was traveling 40 mph in northbound traffic on Highway 101 in California, when three lanes quickly merged into two lanes of congested traffic.
Maj. Richard Apple, the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, was returning home after having routine maintenance work completed on his motorcycle. As the lanes merged, he found himself in the left lane of traffic.
Being in the left lane, Apple said he scanned the road ahead and his peripheral vision for potential threats. Inherently, his focus was on the right lane, where he thought danger was most prevalent.
Driving defensively, Apple said he recognized a motorist who was recklessly trying to gain ground in the congestion by swerving in and out of the lanes of traffic. The motorist’s vehicle had a burnt-out brake light on its right side.
“There was nothing but the median to my left and bumper-to-bumper traffic to my right,” Apple said. “Here’s my mistake, I let myself become fixated on everything to my right.”
At one point, the motorist who was driving aggressively was to the immediate right of Apple’s motorcycle.
“So, I am scanning to my right and I’m looking at the right side (driver’s side) of his car,” Apple said. “We are probably doing about 40 (mph) at this point, he accelerates and I am starting to get on the throttle. The next thing I know, his car is rushing up toward me.”
Due to an inoperable brake light on the vehicle ahead, Apple said he was not alerted by the illumination put off by the automobile, signaling the vehicle was decelerating.
“I see his car rapidly decelerating, so I get on my brakes,” Apple said.
Clutching the brakes, Apple was able to slow his motorcycle down to a speed of approximately 10 mph. However, these efforts were not enough to avoid impact.
“I hit the stopped car’s right tail light, and the bike stopped dead,” Apple said. “I went from 10 (mph) to zero (mph) in a millisecond.”
At impact, the handlebars were yanked out of Apple’s hands.
“The handlebars went to the right, the bike fell to its left,” Apple said. “I tucked and I went over. In this case, I knew I was either going through his back windshield or I was going under the car. I went into a ball and I went over on my side hard.”
The momentum of a 600-pound motorcycle traveling 10 mph before abruptly colliding with a stopped automobile proved to be a jarring experience. Although Apple hit the pavement hard, the shaken up commander was fortunately able to pick himself, and his motorcycle, up off of the ground with the help of bystanders.
“I was shook up, but I knew instinctively that I hadn’t broken anything,” he said. “However, the bruising was so bad that I’m convinced that the safety gear I was wearing saved me.”
Apple said he had the wind knocked out of him and sustained only bruises in the aftermath of the accident. After a thorough self-conducted motorcycle inspection, Apple was able to ride home safely on his bike just moments after what could have been a more serious, if not life-threatening incident.
“I don’t want to repeat the experience; however, it solidified in my mind that nobody needs to be on a motorcycle without the proper safety gear,” Apple said.
Apple admits he used to wear only the minimal amount of personal protective equipment required to ride his motorcycle until a quote from an article he read in a magazine greatly influenced his thinking.
In regards to wearing PPE that can sometimes be cumbersome and hot, the author’s quote in the magazine stated “sweat can be wiped off, road rash cannot,” Apple recalled. Ever since reading the quote, Apple has become a strong advocate of the use of proper safety gear.
“I am a living testament of the importance of wearing PPE while on a motorcycle,” Apple said. “I would have been seriously injured without it.”