October 2002 Safety Thoughts

Avoiding Deer

by Dave Hansen, Safety Officer

Have you, members of your family or someone you know had an accident with a deer?  Last year there were 65,000 deer/vehicle accidents reported in Michigan.  Itís estimated that due to under-reporting the real total is nearer to 80,000 deer vehicle accidents in Michigan each year.

Last year there were 8 deaths and over 2,100 injuries due to deer/vehicle accidents.  Over half those deaths were deer/motorcycle accidents.  One in seven or 15% of all vehicle accidents in  Michigan are deer-related.  Over 50% of deer/vehicle accidents occur during the months of September through December with November having 20%, followed by October with 17% of the annual crashes.  Times of the accidents are related to periods of highest deer activity; just before and after dawn & again around dusk.

All but 1 of the top 10 counties reporting deer/vehicle accidents are in southern Michigan, with Oakland County among the top 5 crash counties.  In recent years Michiganís deer population has exploded to around 2 million deer, with southern Michiganís deer population increasing 10-fold from a low of around 70,000 deer to itís current level of 700,000 deer.

Many people swear by deer whistles.  These are devices that attach to your vehicle that are supposed to alert deer that youíre approaching, get there attention & stop them from running out in front of you.  While we know that, nobodyís figured out how to teach that to the deer; according to the Michigan Deer Crash Coalition, statistics donít support the claims that deer whistles work.  Use them if you want, just donít bet your life on them.

According to the Michigan State Police, in a deer crash situation you should:

         Not swerve (most accidents involving deer are actually caused by loss of control while swerving to avoid the deer)

         Brake firmly

         Hold the steering wheel firmly

         Hit the deer

         Come to a controlled stop

Obviously these recommendations apply for cars & trucks.  Iím not sure Iíd want to hit the deer when on a motorcycle.  So it would appear weíre on our own again with this issue.  I live in rural northwestern Oakland County.  We have plenty of deer up my way.  I ride lots of miles.  Iíve had several deer accident opportunities, but fortunately never hit one.  Hereís my thoughts:

         Avoid traveling at times of highest deer activity if possible

         Be extra alert during times of highest deer activity, not only during dawn/dusk times, but any time after dark

         Slow down, donít over-drive your headlight (under 50 mph after dark)

         Scan the edges of your headlight pattern for both movement & eyes reflecting

         If you see a deer, brake hard but maintain control

         Donít run off the road trying to avoid a deer Ė youíll crash for sure that way

         If you see one deer, expect to see more Ė they usually travel in groups in single file

         Loud pipes Ė despite the controversy I firmly believe loud pipes do save lives by alerting deer of your presence well in advance

         If you have one, play your radio loud

Deer become accustomed to vehicle traffic & donít see cars as a threat.  Be different (loud pipes, loud radio) & the deer should perceive you differently than the vehicle traffic theyíre accustomed to and donít feel threatened by.  No guaranties here.  Deer are unpredictable.  Just slow down & stay alert.  And make sure your hard braking skills are up to the task.

Ride Safe!


Words of Safety