CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. —Sgt. Adam Bosley was back from his third tour of duty in Iraq and waiting to head to Afghanistan when he bought a sleek, souped-up motorcycle capable of high-speed cornering and explosive acceleration.
Days after buying the machine in August, the 29-year-old Marine was dead after he lost control of the sport bike on a San Diego highway ramp, struck a guardrail and tumbled down a ravine.
"I always knew there was a possibility he might not come back from Iraq," his mother, Carla Wilson, said from her home in O'Neill, Neb. "That's why I'm feeling a lot of anger, that it was just a motorcycle wreck."
Alarmed by hundreds of motorcycle deaths by off-duty Marines, soldiers and sailors over the past several years, the military is requiring riding classes, screening riders for risky behavior, and organizing racing events for a safe adrenaline rush.
The military lost 124 members to motorcycle accidents in the fiscal year ending Sept. 1, 2008. That number dropped to 72 in the most recent fiscal year.
Motorcycle deaths are also up nationally, as bike sales and registrations rise. Deaths last year increased for the 11th straight year — from 2,116 in 1997 to an all-time high of 5,290, the National Highway Traffic Administration said.
The Army reported a 34 percent rise in motorcycle fatalities from 2007 to 2008, and the Marines and the Navy also reported significant increases.
"We don't have the luxury of losing people to preventable mishaps, that's why there's an urgent need to do something," said April Phillips, a Navy spokeswoman.
Military safety officials say nearly all of the fatal accidents occurred with riders on racing-style sport bikes. Speed, a lack of riding experience and inability to handle the high-performance motorcycles were factors in the vast majority of the crashes.
For young troops returning from deployment with disposable cash, the roughly $10,000 price tag presents a cheaper, appealing alternative to buying a car.
The military ramped up safety training last year by requiring members to take a sport bike riding course within three months of buying one. More than 10,000 riders have been trained over the past 1 1/2 years.