Every motorcycle highway death is preventable

Wouldn’t it be a shame to live through the shutdown of 2020 only to die a violent death in a motorcycle accident while on vacation? Perhaps worse yet, what if your carelessness results in someone else’s death?

In South Dakota, we measure Sturgis Rally-related vendor fee receipts, economic impact, drug arrests, driving while intoxicated arrests, violent crime arrests, human trafficking arrests, hotel occupancy, sales tax receipts, campground occupancy, Mount Rushmore visitors and traffic counts into and out of Sturgis. A sad statistic that is gathered each year in South Dakota is the number of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally-related highway deaths.

In 2020, we now have COVID-19 to worry about as well. There was discussion in Sturgis earlier this year about whether to cancel the Rally, an idea that was ridiculous on its face. The bikers are coming. They would have come no matter what the city of Sturgis decided to do. Vendors are coming, whether or not the city of Sturgis chose to sell them a vending permit.

There’s little question the 2020 Rally will be different than all rallies before. Fewer people are coming. Historically, anniversary rallies in years ending in five or zero, see much greater attendance. Those Rallies landing in years divisible by 25 are particularly large. COVID-19 will have a significant impact on that trend. The 2020 Rally will be the 80th.

Reasonable people could have predicted 750,000 or more motorcycle enthusiasts visiting the Black Hills during the rally. But, the demographic for the motorcycle business, particularly those motorcycles made in America, is aging. Those same reasonable people could predict today that many of those aging people will choose to stay home. Many of those Sturgis Rally regulars fancy themselves rugged individualists, ready to thwart authority. I suspect the threat of a virus that is most deadly to those over 60 years old, may curb some of that “thwarty” individualism.

There will still be a lot of motorcyclists ready to throw caution to the wind and risk COVID-19 to come to the Black Hills for their vacation. Some will be coming just to get away from their home state hot spots. Historically, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a favorite among many bikers from places like New York, Florida, California and Texas.

We know how to avoid or slow the spread of COVID-19. Bikers are used to wearing face-masks. Prior to 2020, they were handy for keeping grasshoppers out of one’s mouth at 80 mph. Expect any face-mask rule in your business to be met with good-natured compliance. Remember, they’ll be here on their vacation.

For some, it will be difficult to be hospitable to people visiting from every hotspot in the world. They’re coming anyway. Some will be afraid they’ll catch the virus as a result of visiting carriers. They’re coming anyway. Some venues popular among bikers will find it nearly impossible to enforce mask wearing and social distancing recommendations. They’re coming anyway.

There will be fewer bikers this year than predicted. The COVID-19 virus is an invisible threat. Responsible folks who live here will be taking every precaution to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.

Not everyone however, will wear a helmet. Some will climb on a bike or into a car after having too much to drink. Some will not have the riding experience to safely negotiate the beautiful twists and turns of roads like Vanocker Canyon, Norris Peak Road or Highway 385. But they will try.

Some in cars will change lanes without looking. Some on bikes will weave in and out of traffic. Nobody will see an accident coming. But one will come. And, someone will die needlessly. And someone’s carelessness will cause someone else’s death. Ride as if the person you love most is your passenger. Drive your car as if every motorcyclist on the road is your most beloved. Wouldn’t it be great if 2020 were the year nobody needlessly died during the Rally?

Disclaimer: The writer’s advertising agency has helped promote Sturgis Motorcycle Rally-related businesses for more than two decades. He writes from Rapid City.

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