Motorcycle Deer Collision - Street Survival

Critter Crashes

For the first three and a half decades of my riding career, I was oblivious to the hazards presented by deer and other animals on the road. In all that time I'd seen only one elk, one deer and a few cattle near the road. Animals simply weren't a consideration... until one night in the coastal mountains of Southern California, when a smallish mule deer leapt down onto the road from an embankment on the right. I hit it at about 40 mph just as it landed, punting it across the road and down a steep cliff on the opposite side, fortunately without crashing. Around that same time, a co-worker from Sport Rider hit another deer at a higher speed, splitting the deer in two before crashing. The rider walked away because he was wearing good protective gear, and a lot of it.

Since then, I've had increasingly frequent deer encounters, so far without further contact. In November, riding on a road in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains just after the sun went to shadow, I was almost hit by a deer bouncing off the front of an oncoming SUV. Less than a mile up the road, I came upon two more deer simply standing on the road. They didn't move as I approached, and I stopped about 50 feet away. After I honked and revved my engine, they finally moved off. Months before (fortunately in a car), I had encountered a big mountain lion on the same road after dark. It seemed quite willing to challenge the car for the road and was in no hurry to leave either, even when we stopped 20 feet away.

During the last few years, my awareness of animals, particularly deer, has risen, as has my interest in avoiding them. This seems to have coincided with a general increase in the deer population nationwide and a resulting rise in collisions with them. People spend more time in rural areas, because more people are moving out of cities. There is a vehicle/deer crash every eight minutes in Michigan. Of course, deer aren't the only animals vehicles hit. During the past year, I have read of motorcycle collisions involving moose, bison, cattle, dogs and other animals, but deer are the most common impact points. In a few areas, deer collisions outnumber all other accidents. Approximately 150 Americans a year die as a result of 700,000 collisions with deer, which cause more than a billion dollars in damage.

A disproportionate number of those fatalities are motorcyclists. The Wisconsin DOT site devoted to the deer problem (www.dot.wisconsin.gov/safety/motorist/crashfacts/docs/deerfacts.pdf) says that while only two percent of car/deer collisions were fatal to humans, 74.5 percent of the motorcycle/deer crashes involved human fatalities. (The deer fair even worse.)

At the moment there is no clear method to avoid those accidents short of staying at home under the bed. Our Web site has a story about a deer detector that flashes lights when deer are sensed near that section of road, but the device is new and probably too costly for widespread deployment. Roadside reflectors seem to have some promise, perhaps because the reflected light causes deer to freeze before they reach the road. Deer whistles? So far, there isn't much research that supports their use, but they certainly don't hurt, or cost much either.

I started doing research and asking people who drive a lot at night in deer country for their advice. Some of it was familiar, but I picked up some fresh pointers, too.

Deer travel in groups. One deer means there are more, so even if the one you see is off the road and going away, slow down immediately.

Heed deer-crossing signs, particularly in the seasons and times of day when deer are active. Slow down, use your high beam, and cover the brakes.

The Wisconsin DOT says that deer collisions peak in October/November, with a smaller peak in May/June. Crashes between April and August are most likely to occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. Between November and January, 5 to 10 p.m. is danger time.

Additional good, powerful driving lights are worth their weight in gold on a deserted road at night. Alternatively, install a bulb with a 100-watt high beam.

Noise-a horn, revving your engine, etc.-may drive deer away. (Don't count on it, though. My son and I recently went out to plink not far from that Sierra Nevada road, and after we set up, a doe and fawn appeared perhaps 30 yards away between us and our targets. I figured they would be gone at the first gunshot, so we fired it in a different direction. They didn't move then or when we fired into the tree above them several times, dropping debris. We finally had to shoo them away.)

Flashing your headlights may break the spell that seems to cause deer to freeze.

Deer and other wild animals are designed to be hard to see. Aside from the flickering white tail of some species or reflection from an eye, they simply disappear. However, this absence of reflected light can also tip you off. A "hole" in a white fence or wall or "missing" roadside reflectors at night might be an animal. A reflector that "blinks" might also indicate an animal.

Don't challenge large animals by approaching them. A buffalo, moose, elk, mountain lion, bear or large, male deer might attack to drive you off. Stay away and consider turning and riding farther away. A rider and his Harley were thrown high into the air by a bison last summer when the motorcyclist tried to ride through a herd crossing a road.

If an animal has been injured, stay away. It may attack or injure you unintentionally.

If a collision appears imminent, do not swerve. Braking hard right up to the point of impact is good, but you want to be stabilized if you do collide, which will give you the greatest chance of remaining upright.

If riding in a group, spread out. That way if one rider hits a deer, he won't take others down with him.

Wear protective gear. As with other crashes, no one plans to hit an animal. The only way to be ready when it happens is to be prepared on every ride. Wearing a helmet for a relaxing evening ride may seem unnecessary, because you are taking it easy, but the deer won't care. A few years ago, a rider told me of a deer leaping over him and catching him hard enough with a hoof to leave a significant gouge in the side of his helmet and wrench his neck a bit. That rider was very pleased that he was wearing a good helmet. A collision with a deer that leaves you lying injured or unconscious on the road is also one of those occasions when you will appreciate reflective material on your gear.

Deer accidents continue to increase. Let's leave them for the cars.-Art Friedman

Send your "Deer Art" e-mails to art.friedman@primedia.com or ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com