STAFF SGT. JAMES STRASSER
A Company, 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment
Pennsylvania Army National Guard
Living in northeastern Pennsylvania, where the deer population is abundant, I've had more than my fair share of run-ins with our four-legged friends while riding my motorcycle. Despite my previous encounters, it took a more serious accident before I truly learned to expect the unexpected.
I have had three incidents involving deer while riding my Harley-Davidson two-up, meaning I had a passenger on the back of the bike. In each of those incidents, instead of hitting my brakes, I depressed my clutch and rode through the impact, keeping the tire(s) rolling. This maneuver allowed me to remain in control of the motorcycle. If I had locked up the brakes, I'd have gone into a skid. I would have lost control and laid down the bike.
My fourth and most recent wildlife encounter occurred on a country back road. As I entered a left-hand curve, a deer sprinted out of the woods straight at me. The course of action I took was to swerve to the right to avoid making contact with him. I then had to pull the motorcycle back hard to the left to stay on track with the direction the road was taking. This put me into a left-side skid for about 25 to 30 feet. Sparks flew as I tried to gain control. With the road pavement running out in the direction of the skid, I decided to give it some gas to try and get on track. That worked; however, it was too late and my rear tire came off the side of the road, causing me and my 2008 Heritage Softail Classic to flip to the right.
After a series of rolls, I quickly jumped up and checked myself for any injuries. By this time, my buddies who were riding behind me had come to a stop. They were shocked to see me standing up after witnessing what looked like a fireworks display caused by the sparks created as the metal scraped the pavement. We looked over the bike — which had a lot of damage, but was still drivable — before making the eight-mile ride back home.
Once in my driveway, I started to remove my leathers but was unable to lift my right arm. There was no pain, but it seemed to be locked in place. It was only after we'd taken off my jacket and shirts that we could see my right clavicle was sticking up about two and a half inches above where it should be. To make a long story short, I now have new ligaments, tendons, two plates and four screws in my right shoulder. To make matters worse, about a week after my surgery, I slipped on some ice and reinjured my shoulder. When doctors performed an MRI, they discovered I also had broken my neck in three places.
Fortunately, my injuries eventually healed and my bike was repaired, allowing me to enjoy many more hours cruising the back roads. But this incident left me with several important lessons learned.
- Wear all your personal protective equipment. During the accident sequence, I hit four large boulders — one with my head. My helmet saved my life that day, and riding leathers helped limit the injuries to my body as I slid down the road. There is no substitute for good PPE.
- Don't become complacent. I'd already hit three deer before this incident and always managed to keep the bike upright. This made me both complacent and overconfident in my abilities. Because the other incidents took place on straight roads, I never considered that a deer would come at me while I was in the curve.
- Even when you're close to home, keep alert. For years, I've heard that most accidents happen close to your home. It took this accident for me to believe it.
- Expect the unexpected. Deer — and some motorists, for that matter — are unpredictable and don't adhere to the rules of the road. Always keep your head on a swivel so you aren't caught by surprise when a monster buck comes barreling out of the treeline or a distracted driver merges into your lane.
Sharing the Road with Nature
Did You Know?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents occur annually in the United States, killing about 150 people and causing at least $1 billion in vehicle damage. Motorcycle riders account for about half of the deaths in vehicle-animal crashes despite the fact that cars, trucks and SUVs outnumber motorcycles on the road 40 to 1.
Here are some tips from motorcyclecruiser.com to help you avoid deer-motorcycle collisions:
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- Deer travel in groups. One deer means there probably are more, so slow down immediately even if the one you see is off the road and running away.
- Heed deer crossing signs, particularly in the seasons and times of day when deer are active. Slow down, use your high beams and cover the brakes.
- The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says deer collisions peak in October and November, with a smaller peak in May and June. Such 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. were the danger times.
- Additional good, powerful driving lights are worth their weight in gold on a deserted road at night. Alternatively, fit a headlamp with a 100-watt high beam.
- Noise — a horn, revving your engine, etc. — might drive deer away.
- Flashing your headlights can break the spell that seems to cause deer to freeze.
- Don't challenge large animals by approaching them. A buffalo, moose, elk, mountain lion, bear or large deer might attack to drive you off. Stay back and consider turning and riding farther away.
- Stay away from an injured animal. It might attack or injure you unintentionally if it comes to and tries to escape.
- Don't swerve if a collision appears imminent. 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.
- Spread out if riding in a group. This pattern will keep a rider who hits a deer from taking other riders 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 ready on every ride.