Few elementary school students are riding motorcycles yet, but Utah officials are taking their motorcycle safety message to those students in hopes they'll carry it home to their parents and older siblings.
"Children are great parent police," Keri Gibson of the Utah Highway Safety Office said. "They will go home and encourage their parents to be safe."
The office has taken its Ride Aware, Drive Aware campaign to 17 elementary schools across the state in response to increasing rates of motorcycle deaths on Utah roads.
Already this year, 12 motorcyclists have been killed in crashes, and the season is just beginning, Gibson said. In 2007, there were 31 motorcycle fatalities in Utah, an increase of 29 percent from 2006. In response, Gov. John Huntsman Jr. declared May Motorcycle Safety Month to increase awareness among motorists and reduce the number of crashes.
Juan Gonzalez, a second-grader at Washington Elementary in Salt Lake City, said that if a car crashes into a motorcycle, then the motorcycle will fly. Neither his parents nor siblings ride motorcycles, but Gonzalez said he will remind his parents to wear their seat belts and help them look for people riding motorcycles on the road.
Growing up, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert never thought about wearing seat belts or a helmet, but now people are smarter and realize how much they protect riders, he told students. He said that his children never ride without a seat belt and often remind him to put his on, too. Herbert asked that the students at Washington Elementary do the same for their families and help their parents be vigilant on the road.
"I think the kids got the message," said Gail Thorpe, a second-grade teacher at Washington Elementary. "I asked my students after the assembly about what they had gotten from the assembly, and they all knew to wear a helmet." Thorpe was concerned that the presentation by UHSO never addressed the importance of wearing helmets with bicycles but thought the children were able to bridge the gap to motorcycles.
In 2005, Thorpe and her husband were riding their motorcycle on the highway when they were struck by a driver and thrown onto the road. The hit-and-run left Thorpe with more than 20 broken bones, she said.
"I know that the helmets saved my life and my husband's," Thorpe said.
It was encouraging to Thorpe that Utah is making an effort to educate students on the importance of safety and vigilance, but she questioned Utah's commitment to safety when no law requires motorcyclists or cyclists to wear helmets. She asked why, if Utah is so concerned about the increasing number of deaths, no helmet law has been passed.
"(The assembly) brought awareness to students about the importance of being safe on the roads," Thorpe said. "The more they hear the message, the more apt they are to follow it when they are old enough."The Utah Department of Public Safety offers motorcycle rider training for beginners and experts. For more information on dates and locations, call 1-800-532-7691.
Tips for motorcyclists:
• Choose lane positions that maximize safety and other drivers' ability to see you.
• Approach intersections with caution.
• Don't crowd automobiles when passing.