Time for a ride through Deerland?

It’s a beautiful spring day.  Depending on where you live, today might be a good day for a ride—quite possibly your first of the year.  Expect to see a lot more cyclists and motorcyclists on the road during the weeks to come.  And also, of course… deer.

The guy in the picture is Dan Rogers.  He’s one of the people I interviewed for my chapter on deer-vehicle crashes.  The title of that chapter is “The Deadliest Animal in North America,” and it’s no exaggeration.  Never mind sharks, rattlesnakes, or grizzlies.  Instead, every time you drive or ride, fear deer.

Statistically, car crashes truly do make whitetail deer the deadliest animal in North America. Last year an estimated 1.5 million deer-vehicle crashes resulted in about 150 human fatalities, over 10,000 injuries, and insurance payouts of over $3.8 billion. The total cost for vehicle repairs and medical or funeral bills was undoubtedly far higher.

A disproportionate number of the fatalities involve motorcyclists. The odds are not in their favor.  One of the other people I interviewed for this chapter of Deerland was state trooper Dean Luhman.  As I rode along with Dean during his afternoon and evening shift, I learned a lot about car crashes, roadkill, and how all this works behind the scenes.  It’s quite a story.

Dean mentioned that he’s been to the scene of three deer-motorcycle crashes, and all three were fatal.  He actually saw one crash happen; the rider was about a quarter mile in front of him when the deer came out of the ditch.  He figures the guy never saw it, and it pretty much tackled him right off his bike.

I could tell from the way Dean told these stories that all three crashes were unsettling, even for someone who’s seen as much as he has.  Here’s the thing: If you hit a deer while driving, you’ll be making a trip to the body shop. If you hit one while riding, especialy if you’re not wearing a helmet, you’ll probably be making a trip to the morgue.

Dan Rogers is one of the rare exceptions. He’s a motorcyclist who collided with a deer and lived to tell about it—despite the fact that he wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time. The lingering effects of his TBI, however, can often make it difficult for him to tell about it in an organized, coherent way.  That said, he’s made incredible progress over the past couple years.  It’s taken the help of some great doctors, a couple of top-notch neurosurgeons, and an entire team of skilled physical, occupational, and speech therapists.  It’s been a long road, and he still has a ways to go.

For now, at least, Dan isn’t able to ride a motorcycle or drive a car.  He does, however, still enjoy bicycling.  Every time he rides he wears a helmet.  If you’re riding, especially if you’re riding a motorcycle, he suggests that you wear one, too.  Maybe slow down just a little.  And watch for deer.

© 2012 Al Cambronne

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.

2 thoughts on “Time for a ride through Deerland?”

  1. Once a long time ago I worked in a place with deer all over the road as soon as the sun went down. We’d work until dark then drive 40 miles of deer dodging. We found that if we immediately slowed to 40 mph when we saw a deer, no matter what that deer decided to do, we could either brake or drive around it and the five unseen deer following. To decelerate so quickly we couldn’t drive much faster than 50. This in a state where it was legal to drink and drive, you just couldn’t drive drunk.

    I think the helmet is only an after the fact issue. We as a society place too much emphasis on following the rules when they alone won’t cure what ails us. Did they have insurance? “I was going the speed limit”. One stretch of road I drive a few times a year reduces the limit after dark and doubles the fine.

    People need to get to where they are going before dark or slow down, a lot not a little. Besides deer, elk, and moose, many parts of the country have open range. If you hit a cow or a horse you might well have to pay for the carcass removal and the cost of the animal. Those bigger animals tend to end up in your lap too. 55 to stay alive.

    1. Amen. All good points. Just slowing down can make a big difference. And by the time you get to the part where you need the helmet, it’s a little late. And this guy acknowledged that he’d been going “maybe not 55” when he had his crash. He also told me, however, about helping to lead bike-handling clinics where motorcyclists practiced evasive maneuvers and hard braking. He said it was a real eye-opener when riders experienced what they could and couldn’t do in a panic stop from various speeds. But then he himself was out riding one day when he came over a hill and started a long straight downgrade, and it was hard to go slow….

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