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'I don't trust cars': Motorcycle fatalities continue to climb despite drop in traffic last year

Posted: 5:21 PM, May 14, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-27 23:23:09-04

The sound of a roaring motorcycle engine- it's the sound of summer, and the sound of date night for Matt and Hayley Lechler.

"For us being married, we've learned it's an outlet for us to get out and just be able to be together," said Matt, or "Uncle Ben" as he's called.

The two love spending time together on the open road. But every time they suit up, they know there's a chance it may be their last ride.

Matt has seen his share of crashes.

"Whenever I was with another group down in Austin, I watched a guy go down, and it wasn't his fault. Actually the car pulled out in front and almost clipped him. He locked it up and went into a skid, and he went down, and it was pretty scary," Matt recalled. "Thankfully, you know, the good Lord was with him. He got up, he was able to walk away. You know, we got things in place to where his trailer, his bike got trailered and we took care of it, but it could have been a lot worse."

Crashes don't just affect the person involved. At the end of that ride, there's a family waiting for that motorcyclist to walk through the door.

"It's always nerve-racking because you never know when or if something could happen. I have faith in his ability and how he drives, and I mean, I'm very blessed to know that he doesn't drive outside of his limits. But I mean, it's always a scary feeling to know that something could happen," said Hayley, who goes by "No-Go."

It's so common, there's a standard procedure in place among the motorcycle community.

"One of the first things we do is we make sure the bike is taken care of. If they need a trailer to get the bike, we try to take care of that. The next thing we do is we have a group of guys who'll get together. We go straight to the hospital, wherever they're at. Even during COVID, we stand outside and we say a quick prayer for that person, because nine times out of 10, when they've gone down, they're in a bad way," said Matt.

If a rider survives, they're forever changed.

"We had a guy earlier this year that went down over in Hewitt, and he got jacked up pretty good. Thankfully, he walked away from it. He's back to probably 90% now, but he's still leery of getting back on," Matt said.

With many stuck at home in 2020, you would think there would have been a decrease in motorcycle crashes. However, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) says the pandemic had the opposite effect.

"Last year in 2020, Texas saw a 17% increase in motorcycle fatalities, totaling 482 deaths. Eighteen of those deaths were here in the Waco district," explained Jake Smith, public information officer for the TxDOT Waco District. "The top contributing factors that we're seeing out there is speed, driver inattention and failure to yield the right of way to motorcyclists, whether it be at a stop sign or private drives or at an intersection."

The Lechlers were almost hit at an intersection on the way to our interview.

"We were at the four-way stop coming in, and a car just decided they didn't want to stop. I don't know if they didn't see us or what," Matt explained.

Most crashes happen between the months of May and October, according to TxDOT. Six out of 10 motorcycle deaths will happen in those five months.

That's why TxDOT has deemed May "Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month" to help drivers notice riders.

"I don't trust cars. Even when we have a support car behind us, I know who the guy normally is that's is in our support truck, I still... I love him to death, but I still will not trust him. I make sure that he's aware of what's going on at all times," Matt said.

It's a mindset "Uncle Ben" has had to adopt to keep himself safe, but he knows that not every crash is caused by cars.

"I'll be the first to tell you that not every single bike wreck is caused by a car. I live by, you know, I don't ride faster than what I can, and I don't ride out of my level," said Matt.

Whether you're on two wheels or four, the Lechlers want you to be aware of your surroundings.

"When we're in a lane, stay in the other lane. Nine times out of 10, we're aware you're there. We're going to go around you, don't try to go around us because when you start going around us, sometimes you might not see that front bike. You might be looking in your blind spot and not see the one right in front of you, and next thing you know, you're taken out somebody and that can end real bad," Matt pleaded.

While the journey is enjoyable, the goal is always to make it home alive.