Allstate has long been dedicated to motorcycle safety. Whether through the ONE (Once is Never Enough) program that installs warning signs at dangerous intersections, or by offering discounts to riders who take safety courses, the company never stops pushing the issue.
The next step? The 2016 Guardians of the Ride program. Allstate employees and agents have identified five safety advocates across America for their tireless efforts to make the ride safer for all riders. Each of them will be honored with a ceremony in their hometown and an all-expenses- paid trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August 2016. Here are their stories:
Mark Howie & the SEE System
Good rule of thumb: Never ride angry. “The anger can take over my ride and then I speed or do things I wouldn’t normally do,” says Mark Howie, a riding instructor at Dillon Brothers Harley- Davidson in Omaha. “I’ll take some down time to relax beforehand. Otherwise, you’re endangering someone else’s life.” Howie is so Zen he dwells only on positive thoughts while riding, and discards everything else.
While peace of mind may be hard to impart in students, Howie—a former motorcycle policeman—makes sure riders focus solely on the ride. The cornerstone of his lessons, the SEE system (“search, evaluate, execute”) encourages constant vigilance, but none of it works, says Howie, unless riders understand the inherent risks. “There are a few adrenaline junkies that are just out to go fast or test the limits of their skills,” he says. “I try to explain to them, that’s all well and good, but one moment in time can change everything.”
And Howie’s optimism rubs off on his apprentices. “You want to make those newer riders strive to be like you,” he says. “It sounds corny, but I love riding and I love helping people learn to ride.”
Tom Wright & the Motorcycle Safety Foundation
The first thing that Tom Wright tells riders: To be proficient, you’ve got to practice. “Riding a motorcycle is a perishable skill,” says Wright, a resident of Roebling, New Jersey. “A motorcycle is not just driveway jewelry.”
His Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider training school teaches beginners the basics—braking, shifting, how to use the clutch and throttle. The ultimate goal is make them lifelong learners. According to Wright, if riders can handle the bike in slow, deliberate maneuvers, when that “uh- oh moment” happens, their instincts will kick in.
At a time when drivers text and tweet and find themselves endlessly distracted, the potential for uh-oh moments is particularly high. “Once I saw a guy playing a flute with both hands on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and steering with his knee,” Wright says. “If you’re counting on the other guy to do the right thing, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Wright loves to pass along sound bites for his students to remember while riding (“On a motorcycle, you’re the bumper . . . Become friends with your front brake . . . You’re not surrounded by airbags . . .”). These days, he’s telling them to “Ride as though you’re a Secret Service agent protecting the most important person on earth”—and he’s teaching them how.
Lisa Cook-Gordon & the Nathan Bower Act
Lisa Cook-Gordon, a social worker living in Melvin, Michigan, had been grieving for four years. Her son’s best friend, Nathan Bower, had died in a motorcycle accident in nearby Brown City, but on the fourth anniversary of his death, Gordon decided it was time for action. She woke up and called Terry Brown, a state representative. “I told her, ‘This is such a senseless death, but we can help save other lives,’” says Gordon. “So we looked at something very simple that wouldn’t cost our state any money.”
A year later—on what would have been Bower’s 25th birthday—Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the Nathan Bower Act. The law, which also passed thanks to Herculean efforts of Nathan’s parents, Tammy and Clint, required driver education courses in Michigan with an emphasis on motorcycle and bicycle awareness. “Parents who lose children grieve every day,” says Gordon. This helped them to make it a little easier.”
Gordon and the Bowers continue to work with legislators to get funds federally and statewide for motorcycle safety initiatives. The goal is to get a similar law passed in five other states in the next five years. “It’s a tall order,” says Gordon. “And there’s nothing we can do to make up for Nathan. But we can help save other lives.”
Catherine Bochat-Duross & The Motorcycle Group
In 2001, Catherine Bochat-Duross came upon a man who had suffered a motorcycle accident on a Texas road. As a rider herself since she was in diapers, Bochat-Duross naturally believed the smashed-up car in the ditch was to blame. She was wrong. “A lot of motorcyclists assume it’s the car driver’s fault,” she says. “Unfortunately, most of the time it’s the rider’s fault. We’re hoping to change that.”
Over the past 11 years, Bochat-Duross has trained more than 14,000 students in her intensive two-day class at The Motorcycle School in San Antonio, Texas. In a state with no helmet law for riders over 21—and an 18 percent rate of usage ten years ago—the classes have reflected the state’s renewed focus on safety. “Our numbers show that Texas has a 66 percent helmet usage now,” says Bochat-Duross. “We’re educating people, and they’re educating their friends and family.”
Especially satisfying for Bochat-Duross is when she can teach a long-time rider something new: say, how to improve one’s line of sight by looking further down the road. And they usually pick it up quickly. “People you meet on motorcycles are usually pretty smart,” she says. “Because stupid doesn’t survive very long on a motorcycle.”
Ken Higginbotham & the Electric City Harley Owners Group
As a teenager, Ken Higginbotham rode like a maniac. Speeding, darting in and out of lanes, showing off—basically acting like a teenager. “Now when I see a rider behaving like that, I want to catch up with them and hit them upside the head,” he says. “It gives motorcycles a bad name.”
As the head road captain and safety officer of the Electric City Harley Owners Group in Anderson, South Carolina, Higginbotham has spent his adult years atoning, whether in the form of monthly meetings, community outreach, or penning a safety column in the group’s newsletter. “We ride twelve months a year in South Carolina, so we see a lot of unfortunate incidents,” says Higginbotham. “Folks I ride with especially, I don’t want to see on the news that they had an accident.”
In a community famous for taking care of its own, Higginbotham’s dedication to safety makes perfect sense. “If you have difficulty on the road, other motorcycle people will come along and give you a hand,” he says. “People who ride tend to be very supportive of one another.”
Allstate offers its heartiest congratulations and endless appreciation for these five Guardians of the Ride. With their dedication, and yours—whether you’re driving, riding, running, or walking—we can all make a difference in the safety of our roads.