Hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders are starting to head to Sturgis, South Dakota, this week for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Not all will make it home, though.
Each year, several motorcycle fatalities are recorded on the way to and from Sturgis.
But law enforcement and highway safety officials hope 2016 is different.
“This year, we would like that to be zero,” said Col. Kebin Haller of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
For the first time, law enforcement and transportation departments across six states are teaming up for a campaign aimed at promoting motorcycle safety and reducing motorcyclist deaths.
Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota – the states in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Region 8 – are all participating, effectively making the campaign stretch from Las Vegas to Fargo.
On Thursday morning, representatives from NHTSA Region 8, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, the Colorado State Patrol, the Cheyenne Police Department and transportation officials in Wyoming and Colorado held a press conference in front of the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign on Interstate 25. The goal was to bring awareness to the campaign as plenty of motorcycles, passenger cars and tractor trailers zipped by on the highway.
The campaign came about after highway safety officials noticed a disproportionate number of motorcycles as a percentage of total highway fatalities in the region, said Gina Espinosa-Salcedo, the NHTSA Region 8 director.
Those figures rise in the weeks before, during and after the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
Haller said in Wyoming alone, 24 of the state’s 2015 highway fatalities were motorcyclists, and there have already been 12 this year.
“Wyoming does have significantly high levels of motorcycle fatalities,” he said.
On average, about three of those occur around the Sturgis event, he said.
Data show that most motorcycle fatalities are the fault of the cyclists and are single-vehicle, said Glenn Davis, the highway safety manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Officials are encouraging motorcyclists to be extra vigilant, wear proper protective gear and remain sober when operating a bike.
“The more safety gear you’re wearing…the more likely you are to not be killed,” said Maj. Tim Keeton of the Colorado State Patrol.
Last year, the Sturgis rally saw an estimated 739,000 people – the largest ever.
But 2015 was a milestone – the rally’s 75th anniversary – and officials are expecting this year to be a more average year, the Rapid City (South Dakota) Journal reported.
Still, that means around 500,000 people are expected to attend.
Regardless of the number, many riders and travelers will pass through Wyoming, especially considering Sturgis is only about 30 miles from the state line on Interstate 90.
Wyoming already has activated message signs across the state displaying safety messages.
On Thursday, signs read, “Stay vertical all the way to Sturgis.”
Officials emphasized that not only do passenger vehicle drivers need to be aware of motorcycles, but riders need to exercise caution as well.
“Riders and bikers, we have to be better,” said Christi Little of the Colorado Sportbike Club. “We must be the better driver. We as motorcyclists must always continue to improve our skills.”
Officials are asking drivers of all types to use the hashtag #Safe2Sturgis to share photos on social media of how travelers are practicing safety.