CHESTER, VT – In March 1992, a high school driver’s ed class in Windsor County, Vermont got invaded by half-dozen grizzled looking bikers in black leather jackets, chaps, and steel-toed boots. All of them were pretty much lifers; you know, the kind of guys who started riding motorcycles when they were six and will probably ride until they’ve lost the strength in their hands to grip the handlebars.
Their faces were weathered and, in most cases, they had a perma-tan on their visages. The students appeared to be a bit unsettled by this motley bunch, but the instructor smiled and welcomed them. It was time for class to begin.
Each man and woman biker got up in front of the class and told the students how long they’d been riding. Some of them talked about how they learned to ride. Most of them learned in a pasture somewhere. They each talked about close calls, mistakes on two wheels, and accidents.
One especially grizzled guy with an Australian accent told how he took a digger on the Alaskan Highway and had to camp for a few days until his damaged cranium healed enough to stop the world from spinning. Soon the talk got somewhat technical. The bikers talked about things like target fixation, distractions on the road, riding mistakes and driver mistakes. There were even a few anecdotes about anti-biker sentiment acted out on the highways. It was all true and, for some of the students, it was rather sobering.
However, the most sobering part came at the end.
The leader of the group came forward and asked if anyone has heard of B.A.M. – Bikers Against Manslaughter?
It is essentially an organization that many motorcyclists have joined over the years that is nothing more than a network of injury lawyers ready to spring into action should the card-holding B.A.M. member get injured by an errant driver. Court settlements are discussed, big numbers are tossed around, the stratospheric cost of compulsory coverage rates are mentioned. The leader’s parting words were “Just remember, if you hit one of us and we live, we will sue you. If we don’t live, our survivors will sue you.”
The room was deathly quiet, and then the only sound you heard was the creak of leather and the clump of heavy boots on institutional floor tile as the bikers filed out of the room. Class over.
Of course, this is a true story, and the bikers were all friends of mine. We all belonged to a now-defunct motorcycle rights organization called F.O.R. VT, or Freedom Of The Road, Vermont. The organization was founded by well-known Vermont State House reporter and activist Rod Clarke, an avid biker. Much of the focus of F.O.R. VT was to work for the repeal of Vermont’s helmet law. While I did not totally agree with that goal, I did believe that the organization’s rider education legislative efforts were laudable.
As the President of the Southeast Vermont Chapter, I came up with the idea for the driver’s ed class visit. When our group contacted local high schools to see if there was any interest in our message, we had just one taker, and we visited that high school’s driver ed class a few times. I have no idea if our efforts made any kind of difference, but I’m proud of the effort our group put into the program.
Fast forward nearly 25 years and the need for that old message seems more important than ever. What made me think of this was a TV commercial I saw the other day. The scene opens on a man listening to a basketball game on his car radio. Suddenly the scene changes to a full-on basketball fantasy where the driver imagines himself emerging from the stands to help the team win the big game. An announcer suddenly says that the average attention span for a driver is eight seconds, then you see a warning light flashing that alerts the fantasizing driver that he has wandered into the oncoming traffic lane.
What? Now we have to have a warning light and a buzzer to keep our brain-dead minds on track while we are driving a 3,000-pound projectile on public roads? Why not depict a more common scenario, where the driver is looking at his smart phone and texting some inane comment while hurtling into the danger zone, putting real human lives at risk?
As a grizzled old biker with 47 years of riding under his belt, I beg the driving public “Please don’t kill us.”
Don’t kill us with inattention. Don’t kill us just because you thought of something clever that you had to text to a friend. And remember; if you hit one of us and we live, we will sue you. If we don’t live, our survivors will sue you.
(Editor’s note: A video that does what Arlo Mudgett suggests already exists, and it’s a PSA worth watching – and sharing.)