Florida State U. PD Raises Traffic Safety Awareness With Bike Race


The ‘Race for Survival: Sebring 12-24’ gets the message out about drunk driving, safety belt use, car surfing and bicycle safety.

The Florida State University Police Department (FSUPD) has for a number of years, used bicycle events as a platform to enhance traffic safety education not only locally, but all over the state of Florida. Past events have included the Ride for Survival, Stop DUI in 24 Hours, and the Matthew Beard Memorial Ride to the Sea, to name a few.

Continuing in this tradition, the FSUPD led the way with another new and unique event through its participation in the Bike Sebring 12/24 ultra endurance bicycle race, which took place on February 13. (Article continues below.)

The event was not simply a race, but a means to forward an important message of traffic safety using the race as the conduit. Long before the racers first left the starting line, the FSUPD developed the idea that the race would represent the determination of the university, police and parents to help get the message out about drunk driving, safety belt use, car surfing and bicycle safety.

  Under the auspices of the FSUPD cycling team and its traffic safety mission, a strategy was developed where during the grueling 12-hour race, crew members at the “pit” area would staff a table with important information and answer questions regarding traffic issues. To add to this, the two crew members who would be on hand were mothers who had children die in traffic crashes. These were Connie Beard, whose son, Matt, was killed by a drunk driver in 2006 and Wendy Bieberle, whose son, Cameron, died in a car surfing crash in 2008. The racers were Major Jim Russell of the FSUPD who would represent law enforcement, and Ritaann “RA” Becker, the parent of a current freshman at FSU.

Together, with the diversity of background between the racers and crew, a synergy was created that would deliver a powerful delivery of the intended message. Simply put, the racers would deliver a symbolic message of determination, while crew members would present direct education to spectators and other crews in the area.

Preparation for the race began months in advance with fundraising being championed by Lauren Hayworth, the sister of FSU alum Trey Hayworth, who was killed in a bicycle crash in Tallahassee in 2008. Lauren, a graduate student at Appalachian State University, organized a fundraising campaign in late 2008 to help FSUPD with its bicycle awareness programming, also known as BEEPP (Bicycle Education Enforcement and Pedestrian Program).  After raising about $600 in a grass roots effort, Lauren forwarded the monies to the FSUPD with the request that the Department utilize the dollars in support of bicycle safety education. The FSUPD knew that with such heartfelt support, it was important to make as big an impact as possible, even on a national level.

The ground work for the race and other events was developed in 2009 through the establishment of the FSUPD cycling team, a group of FSU police officers who would use cycling as a method to educate the public on roadway issues.

The Bike Sebring 12/24 is, in a word, big. It represents an early season race on the ultra-marathon cycling calendar, and actually consists of three races that take place simultaneously.  First there is the 12 Hour Ultra, then there is the 24 Hour drafting race, and the 24 Hour RAAM (Race Across AMerica) qualifier. The race regularly draws racers from all over the United States, and as in previous years, it had a significant international flair as well.

Racers ride as fast and far as they can for their respective race and riders who can complete the most miles in the allotted time, win. The course itself consists of three laps on the Sebring racetrack, then an 89 mile road course, followed by a 12 mile shorter road course until the completion of the race.

During the race, crews and members of the public stopped by the traffic safety information table and talked to Wendy and Connie. They were picking up all kinds of information including DUI pamphlets, bike safety brochures, and videos on information germane to young drivers from the Dori Slosberg Foundation. Also, Connie and Wendy had information cards regarding their sons and their stories, with messages concerning the losses that drunk driving and car surfing cause.  What was even more impactful was that Connie and Wendy added direct education through their personal stories and pain associated with the loss of their sons. The mission was being met! (Article continues below.)

The awards ceremony was almost immediately after the race, and racers, crews, and friends gathered and enjoyed hot coffee, snacks, and drinks after a hard day on the course. Jim although enjoying the honor of being an official finisher, did not win, but was not last either, taking 5th place in his class with 127 miles completed in hard conditions.  Not a bad day’s work.

  Ritaann’s hard work and effort would pay off.  RA would take first place with 188 miles in the bank in the 55-59 women’s age group, meaning that Florida State had secured a win in Sebring!  As she would say later, she worked hard for that medal they hung around her neck. Indeed she did, and the backdrop of her Florida State University cycling jersey was a perfect complement to the award she worked tirelessly to secure.

More importantly than placements or awards was the fact that the real winners in the race were each and every person who was exposed to the traffic safety education presented by the team.  The FSUPD with the support of parents, administration, and citizens has consistently sought new and sometimes unorthodox venues to present safety concepts, and the Sebring 12/24 race proved to be a perfect platform.  Not only did the racers demonstrate determination symbolic of the traffic safety mission, but persons from all over the county learned important safety information to take back home.  What’s more, Florida State University once again emerged as a recognized leader in education among a group of people who operate in an environment where roadway safety is a daily and constant concern.

Not only did FSU win, every participant won an award greater than any medal.

By Major Jim Russell, FSUPD

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo