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bikeBike Animal Crashes

Strategy for animals is hard. Animals are unpredictable, often well camauflaged, and don't know the rules of the road.

We can't prevent or control animal interactions, and a deer impact can be fatal.

Our best bet with animals is to be aware of the sorts of places and times animals are more likely to be foud, to be extra vigilant for animals, to slow down and maybe cover the brakes.

The most frequent animal problem is deer, elk, moose and caribou. We have heard of issues with alligators, snakes and land-crabs. Squirrels, cats and small animals can also be a problem. A different category of animal crashes involve carnivores, principally loose dogs but possibly panthers, mountain lions and other predators. In parts of the country, cattle and sheep range freely and can get on the road, or herders use public roads to move stock.

Every biker knows someone who has had a large herbivore crash, or has had close calls. We think this is a bigger issue than many allow for. See David Hough's "Proficient Motorcycling" for an excellent treatment of animal hazards. We also like Motorcyclecruiser.com's article from 2009.

Animal Crashes: the facts

We consider large herbivores, principally white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose to be the most lethal animal crash causation.

The Hurt study, because it was done in an urban area (Los Angeles) where deer are rare, did not report deer crashes. We think if it had included a rural area or one of the top 10 deer crash states, that the conclusions on animal crashes would have been very different.

We like DeerCrash.com as a comprehensive resource on the dangers of deer. It has a lot of statistics and tables about deer crashes in general, which includes all vehicle types.

Top 10 states for deer crash fatalities, all vehicle types, 2008.

State
Fatalities
Texas
17
Wisconsin
15
Iowa
11
Michigan
11
Ohio
10
North Carolina
9
Pennsylvania
9
Georgia
8
Kansas
8
Minnesota
8

Source: Deercrash.com

As data is very partial due to the limited data collection by FARS, the DOT accident statistics reporting system, we focus on one state, Minnesota, which is on the Deercrash.com top ten list. and compare the motorcycle accident stats from the Minnesota state motorcycle crash report for 2008. We also have to point out that Texas, while being the worst for number of fatalities, is also very large compared to many of the numbers, so the Deercrash.com rankings probably don't accurately reflect the relative probability of seeing a deer.

Motorcycle/deer crashes in Minnesota for 2008 totaled 111 incidents, with 120 bikers injured and 7 killed. There were 20 additional bike crashes attributed to other animals, with 20 injuries and one death.

Comparing this to the total deer crashes for all vehicle types in Minnesota, 2008, from Deercrash.com, there were 2,538 crashes, 360 injuries and 9 fatalities.

With the caveat that this data is from two different sources and we can't guarantee that the data was collected the same way, it looks to us like bikers are much more vulnerable than cagers to deer collisions. It makes sense, a steel cage is a good defense against most critters.

About 4.4% of deer crashes involved a bike. 33% of injuries and 78% of deaths in all vehicular deer crashes were of bikers. In 111 crashes, 127 riders were injured or killed. 6.7% of Minnesota bike crashes in general were caused by deer, but 9.9% of the fatalities. Deer are clearly a major cause of crashes, injuries and deaths in bikers, at least in Minnesota.

Extrapolating the Minnesota stats nationwide, and assuming the same biker percentages, it would seem that the 223 fatalities in 215 fatal deer crashes nationwide might have included around 174 bikers, with an estimated 3000 crashes and 3600 injuries.

Deer and Herbivore Strategies.

It's essential to know when to expect deer. First, the ten states from the Deercrash.com site above are the most common states, but deer, elk and moose can be encountered almost anywhere.

Deer like forests with occasional grassy areas, but they can be encountered anywhere, including cities.

Mule deer and other species, especially in the West, have regular migration patterns. Check Deercrash.com for tips on animal migration patterns that might affect your upcoming ride, especially if going to an area with which you are unfamiliar.

Deer are seen more at dusk and dawn, and, as they don't like insects any more than humans do, they sometimes move out of the trees and into open spaces near roads to avoid them. If you are getting a lot of bugs on your visor, you might also look out for deer.

Signs

deer signDeer, moose and wild herbivores. An obvious sign to look out for are the yellow diamonds with the deer silhouette. Road authorities generally put the signs up in repsponse to reported deer crashes or deer carcasses found by the road. Be aware that not all localities do this.

Deer carcasses by the side of the road are another clear sign to look out for. If you see one deer, there may be more close by, because they are herd critters. You might also see signs for bears, alligators, panthers and other animals in various places.

Strategies for Animals

There are various purported countermeasures available to individuals. Motorcyclecriuser.com details some studies on deeer whistles that suggest they don't work, in fact, in one study the deer might have been attracted to the whistles. The whistles themselves can be clogged by road dirt and bugs and stop working, and as you can't hear the ultrasonic noise, you'll never know. Put not your faith in anti-animal devices. Deer repellant doesn't seem practical either, as it'll be smelt mostly from the rear.

This means that our best bet is to carefully look out for deer, and when you know there's a good chance of some being around, take extra precautions. Slow down a bit, maybe cover the brake. The biker advantage of height and no blind spots is the only thing going for us, as it improves our chances of seeing the deer. The usual visual scanning rules apply. Our chances of seeing a moving target are better in our peripheral vision, so keeping our eyes moving improves our chances of seeing the deer.

Swerving to avoid deer or other large hebrivores can be problematic. They are capable of changing or reversing direction unexpectedly, or being caught in your headlight and freezing. There's no way of saying what they'll do if spooked by your bike.

This leaves braking as the evasion best bet in many cases. You've been practicing emergency braking, you've slowed down, you're covering the brake and using your peripheral vision to try and spot moving deer. If you decide on braking as your default deer measure, you can cut the decision time. Covering the brakes cuts reaction time, and practicing emergency braking improves your braking performance. Slowing down as little as 5 or 10 miles per hour also cuts vital feet from your braking distance, and more is better.

ET reports a deer near miss from 2009, when just a touch of the brakes slowed the bike enough to let the deer slip by just a foot or two in front of the bike. You don't necessarily have to be able to stop the bike to miss the deer.

Braking, even if you hit the deer, should reduce the impact. We have also heard from bikers in deer crashes who walked away, and attribute their survival to good protective gear. As the most critical times for deer are dusk and dawn, even in summer it might be a good idea to stop and put on the best gear you have with you.

Conclusion

Deer crashes are common where bikers like to ride, in the countryside and on the twisties. There are no really good way of avoiding them. Extra vigilance and preparedness, knowing when and where to expect large herbivores, slowing down and being ready to brake hard seem like the best bet for avoiding and mitigating the dangers from deer. Personal protective gear in high-risk areas is a great idea.

Although deer and other large herbivores are the main animal killers of bikers, there are a number of other potential animal hazards out there.

See Also: Other Animal Crashes.