When Rob Lawrence, MCMI, initially started watching a motorcycle safety program develop and grow where he lived in the United Kingdom, he was intrigued. When he immigrated from the U.K. to Richmond, Va., in 2009, he brought his family, his worldly possessions, and this idea, which was started in Europe: that motorcycle riders and EMS could work together to help enhance motorcycle rider safety.
“I got in touch with a friend of mine who is the chairman of the United Kingdom Motorcycle Club and said, ‘You’ve got a really good motorcycle safety program, could I borrow the concept?’ From that point on we formed an international alliance supporting each other,” says Lawrence, who is chief operating officer for the Richmond Ambulance Authority (RAA).
Birth of an Idea
It all started from that conversation, and now the Rider Alert program is growing into one of the most innovative and popular motorcycle safety alert programs in the country. In essence, motorcycle riders are issued a free card and decal. They fill out the card, listing their next of kin and any medical conditions. The cards are then placed inside their helmets. A free decal is also issued that alerts medical personnel or accident bystanders about the card inside the helmet and also states, “Do Not Remove Helmet.” The decal is aimed to guide passersby or laypeople, who might try to force the helmet off while trying to help the rider in the event of an accident.
“It’s a simple waterproof card that goes inside the helmet and contains key information about the rider,” says Lawrence. “The decal alerts the medic that there is something in the helmet and warns a bystander not to meddle in helmet removal. That’s how simple the concept is.”
That simple concept has now swept six states and is spreading internationally. In the 11 months since its inception, Rider Alert has issued 125,000 free cards to motorcycle riders within Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, New York and Arizona. It’s also working with motorcycle clubs in Sweden and Australia to get the cards and decals approved in those countries. “The speed with which this has taken off has been phenomenal and life altering,” says Lawrence.
When the program launched this past April, the chairman of the U.K. Motorcycle Club came to Virginia to help get the program off the ground. Because of the friendship between the European and Virginia motorcycle clubs, and because the program has been so unique and effective, Rider Alert was awarded the 2012 Prince Michael International Road Safety Award. “We’ve had international recognition, and we are very pleased with that,” says Lawrence.
Why the popularity? Lawrence suggests a number of reasons. “It’s free to the rider, there is no requirement to register your decal, and there is no data held on you,” he says. “The card is there for when we need it to help the rider when they need us. The principles of that have been very well received.”
The program is operated through what is now a Who’s Who of corporate sponsors, including Bon Secours Richmond Health System, the American Automobile Association, GEICO, PHI Inc., and the public safety agencies of the Shenandoah Valley.
“We started off with Motorcycle Virginia, a not-for-profit organization, and then Bon Secours Virginia came on board and embraced the idea,” says Lawrence. The hospital developed a website (www.rideralert.org), and issued a press release on the program. “We had almost overnight brand recognition,” Lawrence says. “We started off with their sponsorship, and by day two, the program had gone viral on the Internet. The concept flew around the motorcycle community. The Virginia State Police and Virginia EMS are all supporters and distributors, as well as the motorcycle dealers in all the places we are operating.”
Rider Alert also is using EMS to broadcast the details of the program internally, and periodically, e-mails are sent out to remind EMS personnel about the program.
“Now that we have brand recognition, we are going around to volunteer rescue squads,” says Lawrence. “Not only will we give you a presentation on the card and how it works, but we will also give you a refresher in helmet removal.” Rider Alert is trying to secure continuing education credits for these presentations.
“We want to continue to perpetuate the knowledge and understanding of getting the card out and removing the helmet effectively,” Lawrence says. “Some volunteer rescue squads may not do this for months or years, so we want to increase the level of education that goes with it.”
Lawrence hopes these volunteer rescue squads will not only be distributers of the cards and decals, but they will also use the presentations as a chance to go into communities to speak about rider safety while drawing attention to their own organizations. “That will help them raise their own awareness, as well,” says Lawrence.
Costs for the program are low. Bon Secours picks up the marketing and website tabs, and the people running the organization give freely of their time. The sponsors pay for the cards and decals. “We are not making a profit,” Lawrence says. “We are not trying to sell anything. We’re just trying to promote motorcycle safety.”
Shortly after the program started in Virginia, a rider was thrown from her bike and knocked unconscious. Fortunately, she had a Rider Alert card in her helmet, which led to the saving of her life. In another case, a paramedic who arrived at the scene of a motorcycle accident might have begun treating the rider’s trauma had they not seen the decal and retrieved the card instead. “The card identified that the rider had a medical condition, and the medic realized that the medical condition had caused the accident,” says Lawrence. The paramedic treated both the trauma and the medical condition, and the rider lived.
Rider Alert prefers that riders receive their cards and decals personally, as opposed to receiving them through friends or the mail. “We like people to individually hand the card out to the rider, and the reason for that is because it gives the rider a moment to think about their mortality,” Lawrence says.
“In that moment, they realize that the card is not a Kevlar-coated cloak of protection, but a piece of paper that may help them in an accident. It makes them think about their safety, the safety of their bike, their driving style, and the equipment they’re wearing. It’s an opportunity to talk about personal safety.”
Feedback from the EMS community has been enthusiastic, to say the least. “We haven’t had a bad word from the EMS or public safety community. We’ve had more positive feedback than I could have ever hoped for,” says Lawrence. “The riders love it too because they realize it’s something that will help us help them.” In fact, the way Lawrence looks at it, the real owner of the card is EMS. And one day, if they need to, EMS will get the card back from the rider.
You’d think someone this passionate about motorcycle safety would be an avid motorcycle enthusiast and rider himself. But Lawrence is not. “I am not a motorcyclist; I’ve never ridden a motorbike,” he says. “I lost a brother to a motorcycle accident decades ago, and the shock has never left the family.”
The news of his brother’s death arrived via a police knock on the family’s door. “What I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone is that knock on the door, and if I can reduce just one extra knock on the door, then it’s all worth doing,” he says.
Sometimes, Lawrence is asked why a program like this hasn’t been developed before now. His answer is straightforward: “It’s probably because it’s such a simple concept, and that makes it so popular,” he says. “It’s something everybody gets and everybody wants, so it makes our job a lot easier.”
Lawrence is passionate about this program, although he worries about distracted drivers who don’t pay attention around motorcycle riders. He worries about more and more drivers talking on cell phones, texting while driving and being less attentive overall. If this program can help those motorcycle riders stay safe, then he believes the program is doing its job.
“I have seen the carnage caused by motorcycle accidents, and doing something is better than doing nothing,” he says. “This program has helped us to help many people. In 11 months, we have already seen that.”
If Lawrence has his way, every motorcyclist in the world will carry a safety card inside their helmet, have a decal firmly affixed outside the helmet, and travel with his blessing for a safe journey.