It was still dark at 5:15 a.m. as I rode home from Arlington, Virginia, where I’d pulled my night-shift gig in the National Guard Bureau watch cell. I was wearing my battle dress uniform and Matterhorn boots along with an "armored" Tour Master cold-weather riding coat with reflective tabs on the sleeves. I was also wearing my full-face helmet. I had just scooted through the "mixing bowl" on I-95 South and knew there were a lot of big rigs behind me.
I was about 500 feet from the exit for Fort Belvoir, riding in the right lane on a poorly lit section of the road. I was almost home free when I suddenly saw a gray mass in front of me. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do. I had traffic in the lane next to me, so there was nowhere for me to go but straight. As I prepared for the impact, I thought, "Well, here goes!" The last thing I remember hearing was the sound of crunching plastic.
When I came to, I was lying on the highway, unable to move. I knew right away I’d fractured my left clavicle. Suddenly, two people were lifting me out of the roadway. The pain of being lifted under my arms was so excruciating that I passed out again.
I woke up as someone was steadying my head while another person checked my lower extremities for injuries. Because my chin strap was choking me, we broke a cardinal rule regarding motorcycle accidents and removed my helmet.
As it turned out, one of the people who pulled me out of the highway was a Marine en route to Quantico. He’d seen the whole thing and told me I’d nearly been run over twice while lying in the road. He’d crossed three lanes of some of the most dangerous traffic in America to get to me. Truckers speed through that area like they’ve got a hot date waiting at the weigh station in Dale City.
Looking back, I’m not sure any amount of training could have prepared me for this kind of event. While I’d figured I would see deer along the smaller side roads I took getting to work, I never expected to see one on the interstate. That just shows you never know when Bambi will get a death wish and dart into traffic. The one thing I had going for me that morning was my personal protective equipment. My helmet bore the brunt of my hitting the road, and I received the replacement cost to get a new one, which I did.
I came away from the accident with severe whiplash, a fractured left clavicle that required two surgeries, and a totaled motorcycle. I was also out of work almost five months. But at least I was alive.
After the accident, I ordered a new Yamaha FJR-1300 and had it delivered. As soon as I was healthy enough, I got back on the road and started riding again. That’s the beauty of wearing PPE. When the unexpected happens, you get a chance to survive, get back on a bike and ride again. That sure beats the alternative.
Sharing the Road with Nature
Here are some tips from motorcyclecruiser.com to help you avoid deer-motorcycle collisions:
- 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 most dangerous 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.
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.