The History of the Texas Highway Patrol Motorcycle Unit
In 1929, the motorcycle was the original mode of transportation for the Texas Highway Motor Patrol, a division of the Texas Highway Department. In 1935, the Texas Department of Public Safety (“Department”) and the Highway Motor Patrol Transferred to the Department and was renamed Highway Patrol. During the early years of the Department, the motorcycle was still the patrol unit of choice, composed of mostly Harley-Davidsons with a few Indians. After World War II, the use of motorcycles was phased out when automobiles began to be the main mode of transportation. By the mid 1950’s, the motorcycles were almost completely phased out except for traffic control during parades.
In the late 1970’s a limited number of Kawasaki motorcycles were purchased by the Department to assist with heavy traffic on the interstate highways in the Houston area. In the early 1980’s, the Department’s motorcycle program was dissolved after several Highway Patrolmen died from high speed crashes: what Highway Patrolmen refer to as a “high speed wobble” and interstate highway traffic drivers failure to “see” the motorcycles during lane changes. The last Kawasaki went out of commission around 1982.
After several decades, the motorcycle was re-introduced for use by the Department. The Motorcycle Unit was created in 2011 and is stationed under the control of Region 7, Capitol Patrol, Austin.
The Duties of the Motorcycle Unit are primarily traffic enforcement, crash response and investigation, and daily patrol in the Capitol Complex. The Motorcycle Unit is also tasked with assisting the current patrol officers assigned to the Capitol Complex area and provide high visibility patrol on and around the state parking garages to deter crime.
The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company manufactures the police motorcycle currently used. Modern advances in police motorcycles increase safety and reduce risk of injury for the officers. Today’s police duty motorcycles are designed specifically for law enforcement work with a heavy duty clutch, special tires, and a higher output engine designed for constant duty. The current police motorcycle in use is equipped with ABS brake system, front and rear which prevents front wheel lock up caused by over breaking. Advances in emergency lighting and siren systems have improved the safety of officers. The current motorcycles are equipped with LED emergency lights which add to visibility compared to the old bulb type flasher lights. Special frame and seat configuration positions offer a greater composite center of gravity enhancing control and handling. Additional seat height and design allows for improved visual observation both for the officer and the motoring public. Officer training programs have also advanced in recent years, addressing specific areas of skills needed to avoid hazards.
As of February 2014, there are four Harley Davidson Police Road King motorcycles and four Officers assigned to the Motorcycle Unit.The 1934 Harley Davidson is on static display in the DPS Museum and a Kawasaki is on display the DPS Academy.
Information and Photos provided by the Texas Highway Patrol