Motorcycle Safety Takes a Slight Turn

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JEFFERSON CITY - At Doug Clawson's motorcycle education course in Jefferson City, the revving sound of motorcycle engines fills the air -- not exactly background music. Students can be seen maneuvering around cones and in between paved white lines while instructors wave directions and call signs.

The month of May has long meant Motorcycle Awareness Month. But this year in Missouri there's something different. Rather than spend the days of May trying to get bikers and drivers to get along, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has teamed up with the Freedom of the Road Riders motorcycle rights group to help motorcyclists educate themselves.

"It's not so much about the gear when it comes to keeping riders safe," said Clawson. "A lot of times, people want to just get on a bike and go but you can really be a danger to yourself and everyone else if you don't know what you're doing."

Clawson is the education coordinator for the Freedom of the Road Riders (FORR). FORR has spent a lot of time lobbying to legislators about helmet laws and other gear-related issues. Current Missouri law requires anyone operating a motorcycle to wear a regulated safety helmet. Clawson said he doesn't want to talk this May about the issue of helmets at all, but rather what he calls "the positive things FORR and MODOT are trying to do."

"Helmets aren't the main concern this year. I believe it should be a freedom of choice law, but we're doing a lot of proactive things to keep motorcyclists safe," Clawson said.

These proactive things aren't just about helping inexperienced riders, but anyone willing to learn. 

"There are people taking these courses that have been riding for maybe 20 years. It's never too late to really make sure you're being safe."

Chris Luebbert is a senior system management specialist for MoDOT, often dealing specifically with motorcycles. He said combining efforts with the FORR has increased motorcycle safety and awareness.

"We actually fund the motorcycle education courses offered in about 26 differnt locations in Missouri," Luebbert said. "We started working with FORR about 2 or 3 years ago and they've really made it clear to bikers that it's important to take lessons."

In 2011, 78 motorcyclists were killed in riding accidents according to MoDOT, eight fewer than 2010.