Is The Sturgis Rally Safe?

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That is a question that comes up often. Are people searching for this information wanting to know if Sturgis is safe as far as accidents, violence, or theft?  Maybe all of the above?  I have compiled some statistics from the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the Meade County Sheriffs Department, and the Sturgis Police Department; you can make your own judgment call.  When you look at the statistics for deaths, hospitalization, arrests, traffic violations, etc., you have to take into account the number of people in attendance.

Of course you can create your own problems, regardless of where you are and without the aid from anyone else. If you drive your motorcycle recklessly and/or under the influence, then you increase your chances of getting into an accident.  If you approach people looking for a fight, then you will probably find a fight.  You get the point.

Overall, I am very impressed considering the massive crowds of people and the lack of altercations. The majority of  attendees at the Sturgis Rally are there to enjoy their passion and shared love for motorcycles.  There is a mutual respect for each other and a huge appreciation for the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an environment that nurtures all aspects of the lifestyle.

Accidents:

2011:  According to the published stats by the South Dakota State Highway Patrol and the Meade County Sheriff’s Department there were 4 Sturgis Rally related fatalities.  The estimated attendance for the 2011 Sturgis Rally was 416,727.  Emergency room visits in 2011 were 275.

In 2009 the estimated attendance was 442,163 with only one rally related fatality and 355 emergency room visits.  The Sturgis Rally in 2000, the 60th Anniversary, had an attendance of 633,000.  The fatalities for that year were 10 with emergency room visits relatively low at 317.

These accidents are a result of a variety of causes.  I do know that in 2006 there were at least 3 fatalities.  One of these fatalities involved a deer strike, one was a bike/truck collision, and one with two bikes riding side-by-side and colliding.

While I feel that the accidents and related fatalities are relatively low, I’m not going to minimize the skills required while in Sturgis.  There is a lot of traffic, A LOT.  If you aren’t skilled on your motorcycle, then this may not be the best place to be.  You have to be able to maneuver your bike in slow traffic and crowded traffic. You need to know how to ride in groups, regardless if you went solo or not, because while in Sturgis you will be in a group of motorcycles, period.  If you are not comfortable riding in groups, or just inexperienced, I suggest reading Riding in Groups.

The rides in the Black Hills are amazing!  One of the biggest draws to the Sturgis Rally are the incredible rides throughout the whole country.  While on these rides you will encounter sharp curves and steep inclines on mountain roads, some crowded with other bikes, cars, & RV’s full of vacationing families, some with the road all to yourself.  You have to be aware of the conditions and use common sense when riding.  Stay in your lane, do not cross the center line.  Don’t ride too close to the motorcycle in front of you. Always use your turn signals and/or hand signals.  If you don’t know what the hand signals are, go to Motorcycle Group Riding & Hand Signals.

If you are interested in more detailed stats the report provided by the South Dakota Dept. of Transportation Office of Transportation Inventory Management can be viewed in its entirety at http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.
com/public/docs/SDDOT-rally.pdf

Is there violence?

Personally we never witnessed fights or violence of any kind.  In 2006 we were aware of a shooting that took place in Custer State Park between some Outlaws motorcycle club members and Hells Angels motorcycle club.  And a stabbing occurred on Da Bus, a shuttle bus that drops off and picks up bar patrons throughout the town, but if we hadn’t ‘heard rumors’ about it we would never had known it took place.  I have read in news reports that this particular shooting was first major act of violence at the Sturgis rally since 1990.

While researching facts for this article I came across an incident in 2008 that involved two motorcycle clubs at the Loud American Roadhouse.  We have been to this bar, it is a cool bar in downtown Sturgis that is rockin every night of the rally with some great bands.

The shooting involved a motorcycle club called the Iron Pigs; a group comprised of police officers and firefighters, and the Hells Angels motorcycle club.  One off-duty police officer from Seattle, two members of the U.S. Customs and Border Inspection in Washington, and a patrol sargeant from Seattle, were charged, all were members of the Iron Pigs motorcycle club. Also charged was one Hells Angels club member.  The incident involved the off-duty officer shooting the Hells Angels member.  I found this story interesting, considering the players involved.  I have to admit I was surprised to read that law enforcement personnel were involved.

Due to this shooting, the Loud American Roadhouse adopted a ‘no colors’ policy.  Many bars in Sturgis and surrounding communities have the ‘no colors’ policy.  Some bars also make patrons remove any fixed blade knives they may have on them. The ‘no colors’ policy is aimed at preventing any rival mc altercations.  While these altercations do happen, it is a rare event. Rival club altercations are not isolated to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, they can happen anywhere.

There was a stabbing while we were there in 2011, again we had no idea that had happened.  This stabbing took place in a bar in downtown Sturgis. It involved members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club and the Mongols motorcycle club.  These events were between parties that have a history with each other, not random acts of violence.  There were not any victims involved in this fight that were not affiliated with the aforementioned clubs.

Like I said earlier, if you want a fight I’m sure you can find one, but if you are minding your own business, if you are respectful of the people around you, and conduct yourself responsibly, then I doubt you will have any issues with anyone at the rally.

Is Sturgis safe?  Yes, there have been incidents.  But in my opinion there are very few considering the massive amount of people involved in the rally. The rally employees police officers from all over the country for the event.
While you are at the rally you are very aware of the police presence in town. I’m not sure you can even walk an entire block without seeing at least one police officer.  There was never a time while we were at Sturgis, or in any of the surrounding communities, that I ever felt that it was an unsafe environment.

Theft at the rally:

The Sturgis Police Department claim every year motorcycles are stolen during the Rally. Expensive, custom, or show bikes are popular with thieves. An average of a quarter of a million dollars worth of motorcycles are stolen during each Rally.

The police department offers suggestions to keep your motorcycle safe while you are at the rally.  These tips can lower the risk of your bike being stolen:

•  Be aware of where you park. Avoid dark, poorly-lit areas. Pay attention to people standing around who seem to take particular interest in your bike.

•  Do no leave leathers, cameras, souvenirs, etc. on your bike.

•  Lock your motorcycle. Factory ignition switch locks are easily overcome by thieves. High-quality disc locks, wheel locks, and heavy cable or chain locks are recommended, in addition to factory-installed devices. Inexpensive locks are generally of poorer quality and are easily broken or cut.

Determined thieves can steal any motorcycle, but common sense and taking these extra precautions will reduce your chances of being a victim.

I hope this article helps to answer any questions people have concerning safety at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally.

Ride Safe!

Author Pam@ridersinfoIs Sturgis Safe?
written by Pam @ www.ridersinfo.net
February, 2012

Resources/Credits:

The Rapid City Journal http://rapidcityjournal.com/
The Seattle Times  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008145767_sturgis29m.html
City of Sturgis, SD official website  http://www.sturgis-sd.gov/index.aspx?NID=188
South Dakota Dept. of Transportation http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/public/docs/SDDOT-rally.pdf

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