Much like the late Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda went looking for America 42 years ago in “Easy Rider,” motorcycle clubs across the state of Texas are looking for a little respect as they promote motorcycle safety awareness.
The Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a non-profit group that advocates motorcycle safety and public education, has joined forces with the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Share the Road” campaign this month to get as many Texas counties and cities to proclaim the month of May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness month.
2011 is the third year in a row that the COC&I, as its commonly referred to, has launched the all-hands effort in an attempt to educate the public on the increasing number of motorcycles sharing Texas roads with those behind the steering wheel on four wheels and what those drivers with four wheels can do to be more careful and observant of motorcycles.
“We feel like our only defense is public education,” said Amber “Mama Cita” Waybright, who serves as spokeswoman for Region 4 of COC&I, which covers most of Southeast Texas. Waybright and her husband Jonzack, also known as “U-Turn,” are members of the local motorcycle club the Red Knights, which is made up predominately of local firefighters.
Waybright, along with her husband, as well as other members of the Region 4 COC&I, have been criss-crossing Southeast Texas in the past two weeks hitting just about every city council and commissioner’s court meeting that’s gone down. Chances are if you live in Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Chambers, Tyler, Newton or Jasper County, you’ve seen or heard a contingent from Region 4 trying to spread the word about motorcycle safety.
And it’s an important message, because there is new information from TxDot that illustrates how vital is it for people to pay better attention to motorcyclists out on the road considering the number of motorcycles on Texas roads has “more than doubled to 424,218 in the last decade” according to figures released by TxDot last week.
With the increasing number of motorcyclists, that means there’s a higher propensity for motorcycle accidents that lead to injury and death, and in 2009, TxDot reported 434 motorcyclists were killed, which accounted for 14 percent of the state’s traffic deaths. “We know that 66 percent of motorcycle crashes result in death or serious injury for the motorcyclist,” said Carol Rawson, TxDot’s Traffic Operations Director.
What’s even more troubling is that the Texas Transportation Institute’s Center for Transportation Safety estimates the number of motorcycle deaths could double by 2015 if more aggressive safety measures aren’t adopted by other motorists.
The encouraging news is that 2009 represented a 12 percent reduction in fatalities from the year before and a 22 percent reduction in injuries. While 2010 numbers have not been released yet, David Dye, a long-time motorcycle enthusiast who handles legislative matters for the COC, said he expects there to be an estimated 6 percent reduction in motorcycle deaths for 2010.
That goes to show that the work being done on the ground by the COC is starting to pay off as the motorcycle community is making a concerted effort to band together and spread the word to the non-motorcycle community.
And that’s one of the aspects of the COC’s mission is working together, especially here in Region 4, one of the most successful regions in the state when it comes to visiting cities and counties and garnering motorcycle proclamations.
Waybright, who was in Beaumont on Tuesday and Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court on Monday, said Region 4 has several members that have donated their time and effort to traveling to different parts of Southeast Texas and espoused the virtues of keeping an eye out for our motorist friends on two wheels.
TxDot is also doing that with its “Seeing Them is Saving Them” campaign that is using TV, Radio and billboards to help promote the safety message. Anyone interested in learning more about motorcycle safety is encouraged to go to www.looklearnlive.org .
Many motorcyclists applaud the fact that as more and more people are riding motorcycles, it’s not as easy as it was back in the day to just get a motorcycle driver’s license and hop on a bike.
“There’s too many people getting on bikes and don’t know how to ride them,” said Dave Carcara, who goes by the moniker “Trouble” and is part of the Guardian Motorcycle Club and is also the Region 4 President.
But thanks to new laws, one must take a motorcycle safety course before being permitted to ride a motorcycle.
While Waybright admits the group is “making progress and opening doors” in its third year of promoting motorcycle safety, there are still some stereotypes of bikers that don’t go away. Whether it’s the leather pants, beards, bandanas or vests with patches signifying club affiliation, Waybright said every club from the Banditos to Bikers for Christ is committed to safety and that bikers come from all walks of life.
“We’re not trying to be tough,” Waybright said of the way most bikers dress, “we’re trying to be smart,” because leather protects skin much better in the event of an accident. “We may not look like your family, but we are a family,” said Waybright, 33, a mother of three.
“We look tough on the outside, but we’re soft and squishy on the inside,” she added.
Kevin Pintch, 48, who’s been married for 20 years and had two adult children, has enjoyed riding motorcycles for more than 30 years. A registered nurse who works in the ER and a volunteer firefighter, Pintch said that in the five years he’s worked in the ER he said he count on one hand how many bikers he’s seen come through because of a fight… And he makes a zero with his hand. Whereas he says the number of guys that he sees from fights who were just carless and acting irresponsibly can be as many as five in a given week.
“We just want to go to work and enjoy riding our bikes when we can and come home in one piece,” said Pintch, who’s the vice president of the Red Knight club.
The COC&I is also reaching out to the sport bike community, affectionately known as “crotch rockets.” Despite both groups being wildly different, Carcara said it’s important that both groups work together to preserve biker’s rights. While the two groups in Dallas and Houston have excellent working relationships according to Carcara, he said the two factions coming together here in Southeast Texas is a “work in progress.”
With the month nearly over, Waybright and gang will be working hard throughout the rest of April and even into May to garner as many proclamations as they can from counties and cities to notice May as Motorcycle Safety Month. The turnouts and receptions so far have been hospitable, and they anticipate that to continue. And in the meantime, when the club members aren’t promoting bike safety, they’ll be out doing what they love, riding on the open road.
“Some people like going to the beach, we like riding motorcycles,” said Carcara, 44, a father of five and grandfather of two. But just don’t expect him to take his Harley to the beach.
"Oh no,” he said, “the sand will tear up the chrome.”