Safe Riding

Avoiding Deer

Written by  October 31, 2003

Deer activity around Kansas and Missouri roadways poses a seasonal traffic hazard, primarily because breeding season is from October to December. During this time, law enforcement officers investigate a large number of deer-vehicle collisions. The Kansas Highway Patrol advises all motorists and riders to be aware of this potential danger and use extra caution. The following stories are true; one was lucky, the other was not.

One rider knows better than most, the unpleasant rite of fall that is dangerous for riders and deer. 'It was about 10:30 at night,' he said, recalling the accident that occurred as he rode his motorcycle on a dark county road one night last November. 'There was very little light from the moon, as a car approached me, I flipped the headlight switch from high to low beam. Right about that time, all I saw was a flash of gray and brown, and there were two deer going across in front of me. I caught the rear of the second one. The front of the bike hit it and I went sailing.' He was very fortunate; all he lost was the cost of his insurance deductible, his leathers and helmet, a little skin, and a month out of the saddle.

Another rider and her friend were cruising just within the city limits of her small town on a Monday afternoon when a deer ran into the road. Her friend saw the deer first and was able to swerve in time to avoid the animal. However, she did not see the deer and was not able to react in time to avoid striking the deer. She was taken by ambulance to the local hospital, then life flight to a major metropolitan hospital where she died the next day. She paid the ultimate price for an afternoon of riding - her life.

Both joined a growing number of riders who have been involved in collisions with deer -- statewide and nationally. Accidents increase in the fall and early winter and have become common across the United States. In 2001, Kansas reported 10,184 motorcycle accidents with deer, resulting in zero fatalities, but 418 injuries. The state of Missouri reported 4,064 accidents (automobile and motorcycle) on the “state highway system” with deer, resulting in 4 fatalities, and 320 injuries. The state of Michigan had the highest deer-motor vehicle accidents with 66,993 deer related accidents, 8 fatalities (4 were motorcycle riders) and 2,100 injuries. Keep in mind that each state tracks and reports accidents differently.

With all these numbers swirling around in your head, what does it all mean? Ride with caution, especially on November 17th , which is known as National Deer D-Day throughout the United States. This is the peak date for deer and motor vehicle accidents throughout the year, resulting in an average of 700 accidents in a single day. Armed with this bit of statistical knowledge and the following defensive techniques, will put the odds in your favor for riding a little more safely this fall and winter:

Motorcycles:
• If possible, avoid traveling at times when deer activity is at its highest.
• Be extra cautious, not only during dawn and dusk, but any time after dark.
• Watch areas in cities that have “green spaces” where deer live due to overcrowding.
• Slow down to under 50 mph after dark and don’t over-ride your headlight.
• Know the whereabouts of all vehicles around you at all times, you may only have a split second to react.
• Scan the edges of your headlight pattern for both movement and eye reflection.
• If a deer crosses your path, brake hard, swerve only if necessary, and above all, maintain control.
• Don’t run off the road trying to avoid a deer – you will crash for sure.
• If you spot a deer and time permits, flip off your high beams.
• If you see one deer, expect to see more – they usually travel in groups in single file.
• Despite the controversy, I firmly believe loud pipes can help by alerting deer of your presence well in advance and gets them to move early, thus allowing you another precious second or two to react.
• If you have a radio, crank it up!

Automobiles: (hey, most of us drive cages too, not to mention our family and friends)
• Wear your seat belt!
• Pay attention to deer-crossing signs, as they indicate that numerous deer strikes have occurred in that area.
• Do not swerve, as most accidents involving deer are actually caused by loss of control while swerving to avoid the deer.
• Be prepared to brake firmly, if you have ABS, let it do its job.
• Hold the steering wheel firmly.
• If you hit the deer, it will move; most trees don’t and pray your air bags work when they're supposed to.
• Come to a controlled stop. (Yeah right)

Deer have become accustom to traffic and don’t see automobiles and motorcycles as a threat. Be different (loud pipes, loud radio) and the deer should perceive you differently than the vehicle traffic they are accustom to and don’t feel threatened by. I offer no guarantees, as deer are unpredictable. This is just shared advice passed down from other riders and my own experience. Just one sentence of advice - Slow down, stay alert and make sure your hard braking skills are up to the task.

Bart

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