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Home : Safety Promotions : News
NEWS | Aug. 26, 2022

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

By Leslie Tomaino, Naval Safety Command Safety Promotions

It was the summer of 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial, and 23-year-old Air Force Airman David Kelley was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, his first duty station. At Nellis, Kelley got his first motorcycle, a 1974 Suzuki GT 380, from a fellow airman who was transferring from the base. All it took was that first ride, and the young Airman was hooked on riding motorcycles. Now, 46 years later, a more seasoned Kelley, often nicknamed “Safety Dave,” has helped countless new and inexperienced riders find their freedom and passion for motorcycles as a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Rider Coach instructor.

As a safety and occupational health (SOH) specialist, Kelley currently works at the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS), China Lake Safety Office. He began working in the SOH job series in 1988 and has spent the last three decades at NAWS China Lake, dedicated to all aspects of safety – especially the Navy Motorcycle Safety Program.

Kelley’s journey to becoming an MSF-certified Rider Coach began in 2017 with the addition of a dedicated motorcycle safety training range at China Lake. In previous years, he was actively involved in the classroom and motorcycle class setups and was interested in possibly becoming a Rider Coach instructor. Kelley began to shadow the contracted Rider Coaches, which entailed helping them in the classroom and at the training range. He would assist with placing cones on the course for the range exercises and riding some of the exercise demos as needed. 

“I believe I shadowed more than a dozen Basic Rider Courses (BRCs) and was approached by the contractor and asked if I would like to become a Rider Coach,” said Kelley. “They were impressed with my abilities and thought I would be a good fit for their organization. I accepted their offer and was thrilled to have the opportunity.” 

Kelley said his first attempt at the MSF Rider Coach training class, an intense seven-day class, was not met with the best results. 

“On day five, I contracted a bad case of the flu and could not finish the class,” Kelley recounted. “This was discouraging, but I am no quitter. When I go in for something, I am all in … no halfway for ‘Safety Dave.’”

Kelley is currently a certified MSF instructor for the BRC and Advanced Rider Course (ARC) training. He has taught 10 BRC and three ARC classes from April 2021 to May 2022. Kelley believes a local instructor helps create a well-balanced motorcycle safety program at NAWS China Lake.

“I am very proud of our program; I am directly involved in the upkeep and serviceability of our range and four support motorcycles,” he said. “We are very fortunate here in the safety office to have these opportunities to train and protect our [service members] while they serve to protect our liberties and freedoms.”

Motorcycle classes range from beginner level, or BRC, to the advanced level for more experienced riders. Active-duty military riders must take BRC, ARC and a refresher course every five years to be in compliance with Department of Defense directives. Service members and Department of Defense identification cardholders who want more information on courses can contact their unit or installation traffic safety coordinator or motorcycle safety representative.

For those considering getting a motorcycle or learning to ride, Kelley suggests taking the BRC. He added that those interested would find out during the second exercise if it is something they would enjoy. Beginners who borrow equipment should make sure it fits well. Kelley has seen some common mistakes new riders make, such as the high expectations new riders place on themselves and the disappointment when they fall short. He stresses there are many new physical skills to learn that often one overlooks their mental abilities and frustration sets in.

“I use an example of the rock ‘n’ roll drummer,” he said. “I ask them if they thought the drummer just picked up some sticks and began playing drums with their feet and hands without practice. How can you expect to coordinate both hands and feet, have good balance and be able to propel yourself and stop with precision from the get-go? This ability usually allows the mental strain to subside, and they can now focus on their physical skills. I remind them that the mental skills and the strategy of Search, Evaluate and Execute (SEE) will hopefully be in their lives forever as they progress as a rider.”

Safety Dave has acquired four decades of training and firsthand and secondhand experience. Here are his Top 5 tips for safe riding and the reasoning behind them.
  1. Take an MSR Rider’s Class for Self-Improvement. “Be available to learn while at the class. As a Rider-Coach, I facilitate your learning experience, so you get the correct information. Be a participative student; interested and ready to learn.”
  2. Practice, Practice, Practice. “I can’t stress this enough: Slow-speed practice exercises are pivotal for controlling the motorcycle. Traveling 45 mph down the road takes little talent, but pulling into a gas station can overwhelm riders with little to no control at slow speeds. I practice on Sunday mornings; I call it “Safety Dave’s church,” all slow-speed exercises, with the first one being the infamous slow race.
  3. All the Gear All the Time, or ATGATT. “Make sure your equipment is fully functional and comfortable for you to use. Ensure your gloves and footwear fit properly and are designed for motorcycle use. This tip is important. What may “look good” may not function well or correctly while operating your motorcycle. Helmets should also be comfortable and not cause you any problems. Comfort is king!”
  4. Search, Evaluate and Execute. “This is your riding strategy and is critical for your longevity as a motorcyclist. In the MSF BRC, this is briefly covered, as this class has so much information; however, I always tell my class that using SEE starts today, and one should never start a ride without going into the SEE mode as soon as you mount the motorcycle. Please turn on your strategy: SEE and it does not shut off until you park your ride for the day. You should be in constant SEE while in, on or around your bike. This strategy is your constant; nothing else matters while you ride.”
  5. When in Doubt, Park it and Pout. “Live to ride another day; it is ok to say no. We are only human, and no one knows us better than we know ourselves. So be honest with self-evaluations of your mindset, and realize you and you alone own your safety character while riding your motorcycle. Called “Ride Your Own Ride” in the group rides, I always say own it at all times while riding. You own your ride, so be honest.”
As “Safety Dave” Kelley’s 40-plus years of government service comes to an end in December, he has undoubtedly seen and learned a lot from motorcycle riding lessons. These lessons he continues to pass on allow countless riders to enjoy the open road safely – just as he has.

“Nothing in life comes close to the exhilaration you experience during the feelings of freedom and being alive that riding brings into your life,” Kelley said. “I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without this beautiful, blessed and wonderful freedom that I have had the privilege to enjoy over these past 46 years. Becoming a motorcyclist has changed my life in so many ways – and all for the betterment and continuous improvement that being a responsible rider brings with it.”

For more news and resources from the Naval Safety Command, visit our website. Rider Down resources are also located here for the latest motorcycle safety information and statistics from the naval enterprise.