Listen to Austin 360 Radio

As ROT Rally rumbles into town, police, organizers focus on safety

Tara Merrigan

With thousands of motorcyclists expected to rumble through Austin for the Republic of Texas Biker Rally this weekend, city officials and rally organizers are taking more aggressive public safety measures in light of the three fatalities during last year's rally.

The annual event, which is the largest motorcycle rally in Texas and the fifth largest in the country, according to organizers, will run from Thursday through Sunday and feature a parade and musical performance by Ted Nugent.

Police Chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday that a "no refusal" initiative will be in effect during the weekend to prevent alcohol-related wrecks.

Last year, the first time that no-refusal was used during ROT weekend, the initiative was enforced during limited periods. Under the no-refusal requirements, officers can obtain blood search warrants for suspects who refuse to give a breath or blood sample as required by law.

"The one thing I can't stand about ROT Rally is to wake up Monday morning to find out we've lost three people needlessly because somebody was drinking and driving, and because not only did somebody decide to drink and drive but they decided to not wear a helmet," Acevedo said. "I know we're all about freedom, but I'd hate to see people in vegetative states because they chose not to wear a helmet."

Since 2007, seven bikers have died during ROT weekends. Three bikers died last year. None were wearing helmets, and two of the deaths were alcohol-related, according to police. Sixteen of 37 DWI arrests police made last year were under the provisions of the no-refusal policy.

More than 40,000 participants and 100,000 spectators will flock to Austin for ROT this year, Acevedo said.

The Police Department has formed a partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety that will increase the number of officers patrolling the Austin area this weekend.

"We will be out and looking to enforce," said Capt. Paul Schulze of the Texas Highway Patrol-Austin District. "Hopefully, we will save lives this weekend."

In addition, 100 Travis County sheriff's deputies will patrol the gates and grounds of the Travis County Exposition Center, the rally's base camp.

The event's organizers have also emphasized safety this year, rolling out two public awareness campaigns.

Denise Garcia, head of media relations for the ROT Rally, said organizers will hang posters emblazoned with the slogans "Ride smart, ride sober" and "Look twice, save a life: Motorcycles are everywhere" throughout the Austin area.

"It's just common sense, but we need to make the public of Austin aware and motorcyclists aware," said Jerry Bragg, a ROT Rally organizer and founder.

Bragg added that planners anticipate that the rally — which pumps about $36 million each year into the local economy, according to the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau — will see its greatest turnout yet, with pre-registration numbers up 5 percent from last year.

Contact Tara Merrigan at 445-3702