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Providing Motorcycle Support Services
Liabilities, liabilities, liabilities

By: James R. Davis

For three years in a row Cash and I provided motorcycle escort service to the Texas MS-150 bicycle run as well as others bicycle events such as the Katy Flatlander.

We have stopped doing so.

When riding motorcycle escort for such an event you make available your self, your motorcycle, your CPR/First Aid training and kits, your CB radio (and HAM radio, if you have one), your time, and your judgment.

You ride the route constantly looking for bikers that are in trouble. Those that have taken a spill, those that have suffered heat stroke, or worse, those that are having mechanical problems and those that are riding unsafely (across the center line, for example.)

If a rider is down you might well have to provide EMS-like services until help can get to you. The reason for having a CB and/or HAM rig is to request that help.

Sounds like a wonderful way to demonstrate a social consciousness, and make a contribution to a good cause, I'm sure. So why have I stopped doing it?

Well, let me describe some of what happened this weekend at the 1996 MS-150 run as an example. During the 8 hours I was on the course there were lots of bicyclist injuries, no less than four were serious enough to require a hospital visit. One of these was either a heart attack or heat prostration. One was a severely lacerated chin (from a fall.) Two were crash victims with STATIONARY vehicles, both required being taken away on stretcher-boards by ambulance. And these were only the few that I personally saw on the 94 mile first-day leg of the course. There were others.

But, you say, isn't that exactly why you were out there? Indeed it was (although not this year - I quit providing escort services last year.) No, it was what was happening behind the scenes that I have yet to tell you about that led me to my decision.

Let me describe the accident which involved the two stretcher-board victims I mentioned earlier. A bicyclist took a spill and had severely cut her leg. One of our Motorcycle Support Team (a woman named Sharon) was first on the scene. She parked her bike at the side of the road immediately behind the victim, dismounted and began providing first aid services. Another member of the Motorcycle Support Team was next to arrive and parked immediately behind Sharon. Shortly thereafter a young male bicyclist drove around the last motorcycle, turned in, then ran right into the back of Sharon's motorcycle! He was the first one that needed a stretcher-board. Within seconds TWO more bicyclists had run into that down bicycle and were down. One of them was the second stretcher-board case.

The weather was perfect (90 degrees and clear), and the road condition was also perfect. What accounts for this series of accidents? Carelessness and the fact that there were over 6,000 bicyclists on the road.

Carelessness is rampant amongst this group of bicyclists. Upwards of 5% of them casually and constantly road their bicycles to the left of the center line in the road! The Motorcycle Support Team and motorcycle policemen that were working the route were completely ineffective in keeping the riders on the right side of the road - but not for lack of trying.

This year there were twice as many roving SAG vehicles as there were the year before (these are used to pick up exhausted riders and their bicycles along the route.) Unlike last year, none of these vehicles was radio controlled (ie, dispatched via radio.) Thus, when we found a person that needed a SAG we were unable to get one - they simply had to wait until one happened to pass by.

This year, like last, the ambulances were radio dispatched. But just like last year, the odds of 'hitting' an ambulance with your radio (they refused to use HAM rigs and relied only on CB's) was about zero! The course was 94 miles long, after all.

THAT is a disaster waiting to happen! I have been at the scene providing first aid and been unable to reach medical help for about 20 minutes in the past. That scared me more than any near miss on my motorcycle. It caused me to rethink about MY liabilities while providing these services.

That's when I found out that many insurance companies will not honor a claim if you are providing support services to an event like the MS-150. That is, many of them specifically EXCLUDE acting in a 'police capacity'. Some of these companies have decided that you are acting in a 'police capacity' if you do any 'traffic control'. Others require that you be compensated in some way before their definition applies.

Let me describe the typical activity of a Motorcycle Support Team member while proving escort services. At least half the time we are on the road we are on the WRONG SIDE OF THE CENTER LINE! These roads are not restricted from normal traffic and there is plenty of it. Clearly, dangerous.

Further, if we happen to see an intersection that is clearly dangerous for the bicyclists to negotiate by themselves, assuming it does not have an actual policemen directing traffic there, we will do so. (Let me hasten to add that we do NOT park our motorcycles in the middle of the road and do this - we park them off the road and do traffic control while on our feet. Thus, there is a question if your motorcycle insurance has any relevance at all.) Nevertheless, it IS traffic control.

None of us is 'compensated' for our work - we are volunteers. Well, we each receive a free T-shirt and a free meal. Hmmmm. Might an insurance company conclude that we are being 'compensated' after all?

Let me go back to the scene of the two motorcycles parked at the side of the road only to have three bicyclists run into them and sustain severe injuries. A police report was not taken! Drivers license and insurance information was not exchanged! About 100 sympathetic bicyclists (all potential witnesses against the motorcyclists) were at the scene. What happens if one or more of those injured bicyclists decides to sue? (Or worse, happens to DIE?)

We (all of the volunteers) were told that the official sponsors of the MS-150 have provided a 'blanket policy' to cover the volunteers. NOT ONE PERSON I KNOW OF WAS SHOWN THAT POLICY OR HAD DESCRIBED TO THEM EXACTLY WHAT THE NATURE OF THAT INSURANCE WAS. (It probably really did exist and may well have been excellent coverage, but who knows.)

So now you know my fundamental concerns about providing motorcycle support services:

  • It is dangerous - riding on the wrong side of the center line with traffic coming at you is an invitation to disaster.

  • A substantial (about 5%) percentage of the bicycle participants are careless to the point of being dangerous. I personally witnessed half a dozen of them PASS an automobile that was itself partly riding across the center line, ON THE LEFT!

  • My insurance might well be rendered ineffective by doing so.

  • It is almost impossible to get medical assistance in a timely fashion relying only on CB communications on a course covering 94 miles.

  • I was not shown, nor did I have a detailed description of, the 'blanket policy' (that might not even exist) covering the volunteers.

  • Directing traffic is not what I had agreed to be doing when I volunteered, and insurance companies specifically identify that activity as sufficient to void their coverage. (Mind you, we are told NOT to do traffic control by the organizers of the event, and we could have simply ignored the hazards. But ignoring the hazard is diametrically opposed to why we were there to begin with.)

I have the utmost respect for my fellow riders that continue to provide motorcycle support services to these worthy events. If you elect to do so, please:

  • Be sure to determine exactly what your personal insurance status is.

  • Be sure to determine EXACTLY what any group coverage for you might be, preferably get a copy of it.

  • Treat an accident like any other accident you might be involved in (exchange license and insurance information.)

  • Do NOT do traffic control. That's a 'police activity', by definition.

  • Stay on the right side of the center line as often as possible.

Copyright © 1992 - 2021 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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