ROT Rally organizers credit safety campaign for drop-off in biker deaths

Riders stand by motorcycles at the Republic of Texas Biker Rally on Saturday, June 10, 2017. (KXAN/Andrew Choat)
Riders stand by motorcycles at the Republic of Texas Biker Rally on Saturday, June 10, 2017. (KXAN/Andrew Choat)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A wreck Saturday afternoon between a motorcycle and a truck that left a man dead and a woman critically injured is the first fatal crash involving a biker during the Republic of Texas Biker Rally since 2013.

Organizers say that’s not by accident.

As the ROT Rally rolled into its final big night over the weekend, Justin Boatner rolled into town for his first rally. The ride in from Weatherford in north Texas on a borrowed motorcycle was smooth, he said, but he’s always thinking about everyone else on the road with him.

“Some of them don’t see you, you know,” he said. “That’s pretty much what you have to believe. You just have to believe they have no idea you’re on a bike. You’re a ghost.”

According to KXAN’s records, from 2010 to 2013, 10 people died on bikes around Austin during the rally. Half of those deaths happened in 2012 alone.

Jerry Bragg, president of the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, Inc., said four years ago that he and his staff stopped looking at the problem just in the rear-view mirror and started taking proactive steps to make sure that everyone who rode out did so a little more safely.

“I think the thing that prompted us to really get involved is we had, one year, 13 accidents,” Bragg said. He couldn’t say how many of those were fatal, “but that was a big number to us and we got really concerned.”

So, starting four years ago, they started working with TxDOT.

“For one year we came up with slogans, billboards, wristband ties,” he said, with wordings like, “ride safe; bikes are everywhere.”

You’ve probably seen the portable electronic signs all over local highways that warn drivers about the increased presence of motorcycles during the rally; Bragg said they also remind bikers to ride safely.

During the last three rallies since that safety campaign started, from 2014 through 2016, KXAN’s records show there have been zero biker deaths — until this year.

“That saddens us,” Bragg said, “but TxDOT has done a marvelous job.”

“Unfortunately, you have this many people, there’s that odds, you know,” Boatner said. He hasn’t been riding very long compared to some of the others coming in for the rally, but he said the thought of the risk is constantly bouncing around under his helmet.

“Every time you get on your bike you want to have that mindset of this could happen, so I want to be prepared for it,” he said.

Whatever went wrong Saturday, tens of thousands of riders come and go every year safely; Bragg said they’ll keep working to keep it that way.

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