Police act to cut down on alcohol-related accidents at biker rally

Katrina Tollin

This year the Austin Police Department cracked down on drunk driving during the annual Republic of Texas Biker Rally with a no-refusal weekend.

An expected 40,000 motorcyclists and motorcycle-enthusiasts were in Austin this weekend for the 17th annual ROT Rally.

Denise Garcia, spokesperson for the ROT Rally, said the event organizers were pleased APD took on the issue.

“It’s an important measure to take,” she said. “We do not encourage drinking and driving — we have full support with the APD on that matter.”

Armando Blanco, a project manager in Construction Services at the University said he has attended the rally for five or six years and supports the no-refusal weekend.

“It’s good. You shouldn’t be drunk on a bike,” he said. “They’re just doing it for the safety of it.”

A notice in the rally’s program guide and signs on the highway alerted visitors and Austinites about the no-refusal weekend.

Last year, there were three alcohol-related traffic deaths during the rally, according to APD. Commander Jason Dusterhoft of the highway enforcement unit said he hopes the no-refusal weekend helped reduce drunk driving.

“We looked back at the numbers of the last year’s ROT rally,” Dusterhoft said. “We had three fatalities that were all alcohol-related in three days. That obviously concerns us and we want to do anything we can to stop that.”

This year, one motorcyclist died in Hays County when he rear-ended a truck early Friday morning, but it is unknown if the cyclist was intoxicated. Another was killed in a crash in East Austin Saturday morning with an intoxicated SUV-driver, according to police sources.

Other crashes left three motorcyclists critically injured, according to local news sources. It is unknown if these accidents were alcohol-related.

A judge was on-call Friday and Saturday nights to write warrants for the blood tests of anybody suspected of drunk driving who would not willingly submit to a breath or blood test.

“If we pull over someone who might be drinking we’ll call over one of [Dusterhoft’s] units and they handle it,” said Srgt. Gary Hanna of the Southwest sector.

About 53 percent of traffic deaths in Austin are alcohol-related, according to APD. Police won’t have total numbers of drunk driving arrests until later today.

A police escort led the rally’s Friday night parade from the Travis County Expo Center, where the event is held, to Congress Avenue. Downtown road closures were erected around East Sixth Street and on Congress Avenue between Cesar Chavez and 11th Streets.

Tourism revenue from the Rally is expected to bring $35 million into Austin, said Julie Hart, vice-president of finance and operations for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We bring people from out of town who wouldn’t normally be here. They leave their money, it circulates through our economy; they go home, and they don’t use our services,” said Hart. “That’s the huge benefit of it.”