FAIRHOPE, Ala. (WKRG) — It’s a hot Wednesday morning in October. It feels more like the 99th day of July than early fall in Fairhope, Alabama. The normal sounds of high school fill the hallways, the chatter of teenagers rushing to class. But this morning there’s another sound, much louder and much more out of place. It’s the sound of Harley Davidsons, not just pulling up in the parking lot, but actually inside a classroom.
I don’t know about you, but I would have been in big trouble if I had ridden a motorcycle into my class in high school. But this day I was not only given permission, but encouraged to bring my Harley Street Bob into the drivers ed class at Fairhope High.
It was my first time in more than 20 years to step foot in driver’s ed. But, Ed “JuJu” Lessard has been up to this for quite some time, “I think I’ve been doing this for about 4 years now,” Lessard tells me. He is a biker, a member of the Patriot Guard, and several other motorcycle groups. He’s also a veteran. That spirit of volunteerism is why, for several years, he’s also been visiting Baldwin County High Schools to teach new drivers to share the road.
“What piece of equipment on that bike would help that driver know there’s a biker beside him?” Lessard asks the class. He teaches eight classes this day and each time at least one person says “the horn.” But Lessard says a biker’s best attention getting tool is loud tailpipes, “loud pipes save lives.”
And in almost every class he teaches, there’s someone who’s lost a family member in a motorcycle accident. This time it was Alexis Lindsey, ” I’m a 10th grader at Fairhope High School. When I was like 7 or 8 my grandfather’s brother was driving his motorcycle. He was turning at a red light. Someone ran the red light and hit him. He hit his head and was killed.”
Not everyone has been touched by a tragedy on the road. So Lessard is on a mission to get as many of them as possible to pay attention, “all these young students, most of them don’t even have their license yet. So we’re trying to get to them while they are young before they develop all of these bad habits.”
What is more rare in these classrooms, students who actually ride street bikes themselves. Herndon Bertolla is a sophomore and rides a Ducati 400, “last weekend I was going to visit one of my friends and a guy pulled out in front of me, no turn signal and almost hit me.”
“Stay off cell phones,” says Lessard, “lots of distractions these days. We always talk about how small and hard to see motorcycles are. I have a lot of discussion about motorcycles. So to have one in the class helps me help them visualize what’s going on.”
“I get right to the intersection and here he comes. I’ve got one, maybe two seconds to decide what to do,” Lessard says as he pushes the bike across the classroom. The students have just seen a dramatic video about how devastating a crash between a car and a motorcycle can be.
“I’ve tried my best to look out for motorcycles because with my personal experience. It is harder to think about hitting someone,” Alexis Lindsey told me after the class. Let’s hope that same message is sinking in to new drivers across the Gulf Coast thanks to Lessard’s hard work.
If you’d like to have the program come to your school hit me up on the Biker Dad Facebook Page and I’ll get you in contact.
Please be careful out there, and follow me on social media:
Chris Best is the News Director for WKRG. He’s a husband and father of four. He’s also a motorcycle enthusiast.
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