Posted on 09/21/2021 at 11:37 AM by The Biker Lawyers

What to do if you hit an animal while riding a motorcycle: Stay Safe. Stay Alive.

Banner image for a blog about what to do if you hit a deer on a motorcycle by The biker Lawyers

"It was a cool Autumn evening and the road was wide open. While riding on a winding country road, I felt free. I steered towards the right side of the road and as I turned, time slowed as a deer jumped right in front of me, followed by another. I had a split second to react. 
Should I swerve or panic brake? I slowed as much as I could, but the collision was inevitable.

I had my helmet on and drew back as not to hit the deer with the handlebar. The motorcycle slid out from under me and I was flung off as it went through the foliage.

The breath was knocked out of me as I rolled off the road and into the ditch. At first, I couldn't move. The only thing I could see was the sky and the dirt covering my helmet’s shield. I caught my breath and a stranger came to help me to my feet.

I carefully felt my body for any symptoms of injury and checked the helmet's integrity before taking off the gear. I was relieved to find that there weren't any symptoms of damage. The same couldn’t be said for my bike... or the deer. I knew I’d been lucky and wondered what I could have done differently."

According to AAA, motorcycles account for about 70%  of deer-strike fatalities. - revzilla.com

To those of us who ride in the country, this cautionary tale is all too real. We tend to confront five types of animals with some regularity: deer, dogs, cattle, birds, and horses in roughly that order of frequency.

There are some things they don't teach you in Drivers Ed. Sure they warn you about pooling water, the danger of potholes, wildlife, and riding with safety in mind, but unfortunately, some things you only learn from experience. With so many types of animal types common across the Midwest that could pose a collision threat, what's the best way to practice road safety and protect yourself?

The obvious best solution is to see the animal before it becomes a danger. We all know, however, that is not always possible. So what to do when an animal unexpectedly appears on the roadway?

Swerve or panic brake? What is the best response to seeing an animal in the road ahead of you?

It’s critical to think about this choice before actually being presented with it. If one thinks it through in advance, the chances of a proper reaction in the heat of the moment are increased greatly.

Swerving is almost always the wrong choice. Seriously – does anybody have a clue where that animal will be two seconds from now? It may change course, right into the motorcycle’s swerve. When a motorcycle swerves, a certain amount of control is lost, but not speed. The swerve often leads to a biker losing control, leaving the roadway, or hitting a fixed object like a tree or fencepost.

Two deer crossing a highway from he perspective of a biker trying to avoid them.Panic braking is almost always the correct choice. 

If the bike has to hit something, it’s best to hit it at the slowest speed possible. Hold the steering line, and brake as hard as possible in a controlled way. That means brake hard, but do not lose control of the bike. The bike naturally wants to stay upright. Braking hard and not swerving betters the chances of not hitting the pavement.

Hitting an animal at 60 mph causes a biker to end up in worse shape than if it had been hit at 15 mph. Swerving does not reduce speed. Braking does. Take the time to practice panic braking regularly. It may end up being the difference in avoiding a serious injury someday. 
As fun as it may be to test the upper limits of your bike, it’s always a good idea to obey traffic laws, including the speed limit. We should also be sure to watch for signs, especially those that warn about deer (or other animals) crossing areas. 

Understanding Deer Behavior

Keep in mind that deer typically stick together in groups of 3 so if you see (or have a near-miss with) one, be alert for others that may be near. If you do happen to see a solo deer grazing on the side of the road, assume it will jump in front of you, even if it doesn’t look like it will. This is because, unlike many animals that react to sound and sight right away, deer tend to wait until a threat is within about 60 feet or so. Often they will leap forward, then in a zig-zag pattern to avoid a perceived threat. This is yet another reason it is a good idea to break early to give yourself time to react.

Ultimately, your safety on the roadways is in your hands. Avoiding "single-motor vehicle" accidents is all about being vigilant. We hope this blog post helps prepare you for any animals you may encounter on the road. We focused on deer here, but much of the braking advice we offered is pretty solid for most other animals too. 


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