Safe Riding

Share the Road - A View of Iowa's Program

Written by  July 31, 2006

While attending the Freedom Rally at Algona, Iowa, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Mr. Wayne Wierson, Share the Road Coordinator for A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa.

CC: Wayne, please talk about what the Share the Road Program is and what you do.

Wayne: Share the Road is a program aimed at drivers and future drivers about being aware of motorcycles. We talk to drivers’ education students about watching out for motorcycles, why we ride in the portions of the lanes that we do, the differences between cars and motorcycles, the reason we wear certain types of clothing. We basically want to give them an idea of what’s going on inside our minds when we’re out on the road on a bike. We are giving them a glimpse of a lifestyle they have never experienced. It doesn’t matter if they ever experience that. We want them to understand why we take the actions we do. We explain that a car surrounds the occupant with a cage while a motorcycle doesn’t. Cars have four brakes, while motorcycles have two. There are lots of differences, the biggest one being size to weight. The biggest motorcycle is no match for the smallest car. They need to respect that things meaning little to them—a piece of debris on the highway, weather conditions—have a much greater effect on motorcyclists. That’s the understanding our program intends to convey.

CC: Have you found the school systems to be receptive to the program?

Wayne:: The schools have been phenomenally cooperative. I’m not sure exactly when Share the Road got started. We kind of borrowed it from A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois. It started as a grassroots idea. One or two people went to a presentation. It was sort of a seat-of-the-pants development. Everyone did their own thing, but there was no cohesive formula for what we were trying to teach. About four years ago, we went through a really bad accident that kind of galvanized everybody to recognize the importance of drivers being aware of motorcycles. The first year I was involved in Share the Road we talked to about two-thousand people. There were about forty volunteer presenters. The second year we talked to six-thousand, and the third year we talked to close to eleven-thousand. Now in our fourth year, we will easily surpass that number.

Most drivers’ ed classes had changed little in the last thirty or forty years. Outside speakers had talked about railroad crossings, organ donations, insurance, and the like, but nobody had talked about motorcycles. That’s one of the things that we bring to a class, another important topic for a soon-to-be driver to be aware of. Most drivers’ ed instructors do not ride motorcycles, so they have no experience and are not comfortable talking about cycles. A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa’s Share the Road Program provides a motorcyclist to come in to the classroom at no charge to the school system or the students and do a one-hour presentation. The instructor is still getting paid for grading papers or lesson planning or whatever he wants to do. Why wouldn’t they want us in the class? We are giving them information at no cost.

CC: Motorcycle awareness is something that will definitely benefit the students as well as the motorcycle community. There are more and more bikes out there all the time.

Wayne: True. Another concept we’re working against is the idea that a helmet is a magic bullet. If you’re wearing a helmet, no matter how drunk you are or how fast you’re going, nothing is going to happen to you. We stress that a helmet never has and never will prevent an accident. It’s a piece of safety equipment, but it won’t provide protection from a driver who’s not paying attention and makes a left turn right in front of a motorcycle. That’s another message of Share the Road.

CC: What kind of reception do you get from the students?

Wayne: It’s interesting, because a lot of the drivers’ education classes, especially in the summer, may start at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. You have 14- and 15-year-old kids somewhere they don’t want to be at an hour they would rather be sleeping. So, I use Jolly Rancher candies. When somebody asks a question or answers one that I throw out, I toss them candy. Last year I went through fifty pounds of Jolly Ranchers. I had one drivers’ ed instructor that told me he had never seen classroom participation like I had. The kids have never experienced the biker lifestyle unless they happen to know somebody who rides. The majority of the students have never been around a motorcycle, never ridden one, and don’t know anyone who rides. Here’s an opportunity for them to get to know a biker. That’s the whole idea.

CC: How hard-hitting is the information you present concerning the results of motorcycle accidents?

Wayne: It’s interesting that you ask how hard-hitting it is, because I was involved in a really tragic accident about four years ago. Six of us were riding from Ames to Anamosa, which is about 160 miles. We had gone about 70 miles when a van crossed the centerline and plowed into us. Three were killed instantly, one fellow lost his leg, and another one had severe head injuries, and I got a cut on my finger. So, getting back to your question, when the students come into the class I pass out a quiz. I ask them to turn it over to the back side and draw six horizontal lines on the blank page. I have each student write his or her name on the second line and the names of five friends on the remaining lines. Later, about halfway through the presentation I have six people from the class to come up to the front. I line them up to demonstrate a staggered formation and explain that we ride that way to give each rider a full lane’s width to avoid obstructions. I talk about how we sometimes move into single file if the situation calls for that, and how staggered riding is the safest method for group travel. Then I talk through the accident. I tell numbers one, three, and five that they have just been killed and send them back to their seats. Number four is told that he has just lost his leg and will have five amputation surgeries, and number six will take two months just to learn how to stand up. Then I return their attention to the sheets they filled out and tell them that they are number two and are where I was. I tell them to imagine how they would feel in that situation, where three of the six people in the group they wrote down are suddenly in body bags. That’s how hard-hitting the presentation is.

CC: Wow! If that doesn’t get their attention, I can’t imagine what would. It must be really difficult for you to talk about having gone through such a terrible experience!

Wayne: It is, but it’s also a relief valve for me. Being able to talk about it is a way to release my frustrations and my feelings. Everything that comes back from day to day is allowed to be expressed in a way that will hopefully have an impact on the audience. It really is therapy for me. I’ve often thought that maybe I’m doing this to atone for the fact that I wasn’t hurt and everybody else was either hurt or killed. Maybe I need to, by my actions and my speaking, prove that somehow I deserve to be unhurt. Whatever feelings or doubts I might have about why I was left behind while everyone else suffered, this is a way for me to vent while impressing upon people in a very powerful way what happens when drivers do something stupid.

The driver of the van had been up for twenty-five hours and fell asleep. He crossed the centerline and killed three fathers, three grandfathers, three husbands, and three friends. To add insult to injury, he paid a $35 fine for crossing the centerline and $35 for failing to have his vehicle under control, and he walked! He was charged with vehicular homicide. In Iowa, to be convicted of vehicular homicide, you have to be deemed reckless. Iowa’s definition of reckless is that you have to be drinking, speeding, weaving about the highway, or be on drugs. The court found that this driver did not meet the criteria for reckless, so he could not be convicted of vehicular homicide. That’s why A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa’s effort to put Share the Road in every drivers’ education class across the state also promotes more severe penalties for right-of-way violations. This means that as a driver, when you violate anyone’s right-of-way, whether you are changing a C.D., answering a cell phone, or whatever, you will be subject to significant fines and jail time.
When you take a voluntary organization like A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa, put forty or fifty presenters out on a voluntary basis, talk to eleven-thousand people, and get bills put through the legislature, what a cohesive group you have! What a powerful group! And it’s all accomplished by volunteers.

CC: I’m sure your presenters are all experts in the field of motorcycling. What training do they need to become qualified to present Share the Road?

Wayne: I’m glad you asked that question. We wish we had a thousand presenters, because anybody that’s been on a motorcycle has the knowledge to share with the drivers’ ed students. Some people aren’t comfortable with the speaking part, but the knowledge is there. We have about thirteen points that we want to cover in every presentation. It’s the same in Dubuque as it is in Sioux City.

CC: Is there a video presentation as part of the program?

Wayne: I have videotaped one of my presentations, because the new law puts Share the Road in every drivers’ education class in the state, and we don’t have enough presenters to cover them all. We will be making copies in DVD format for distribution into all of the schools that we can’t visit in person.

CC: When is the new law effective in Iowa?

Wayne: On July 1, 2006. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of fifty to nothing and the House at ninety-five to three, and Governor Tom Vilsack signed it in April without the blink of an eye. The bill is law on the first of July.

CC: That’s great!

Wayne: It is awesome!

CC: Do you know how many other states have similar programs?

Wayne: I was invited to Arkansas by the Motorcycle Riders Foundation where I had the opportunity to talk to representatives from thirty-seven other states and two from Europe. From that, six states have contacted me since then about how to get a Share the Road program started. I was invited to Kentucky where I presented a seminar to help get those people motivated to start a program. I was in South Dakota for the same reason. People from several other states have expressed interest. I really think that we have a great chance of taking this program national! I think when people see that Iowa is reducing accidents by getting in front of people and actually talking to them rather than putting up a billboard or relying on a public service announcement or whatever else they use, other states are going to see that, and they are going to want it.

CC: It’s great that you are reaching future drivers who are still young and in the learning mode.

Wayne: Once we get them at fourteen, we’re going to have them as drivers all the rest of their lives watching out for motorcycles. That’s got to help!

CC: It’s really teriffic! I appreciate the your efforts and those of A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa, and I wish you the best of luck in taking Share the Road nationwide. What a huge accomplishment that will be in enhancing motorcycle safety.

Wayne:: Thanks for the opportunity to get the word out.

CC: Thanks for taking the time to provide this information to Cycle Connections readers.

Later during the rally, I attended a presentation to rally attendees by Wayne Wierson and Richard Archer. They presented segments of the Share the Road program used in Iowa schools. When Wayne gathered six riders from the audience and brought them to front to demonstrate the staggered formation and talk about the accident, tears filled my eyes. The way Wayne deals with the personal tragedy that he re-lives every day, turning it into a powerful tool to make bikers everywhere safer, is profoundly impressive! I marvel at the accomplishments of Iowa’s A.B.A.T.E. group and other supporters who got behind the Share the Road initiative and pushed it through to become state law. I wish there was some way to thank them all individually. Hopefully those who read this article will be motivated to get involved with their local motorcycle rights groups and help Wayne’s dream of a national Share the Road program become a reality.

Interview and photos by Stripe