OFF THE WIRE
CRITTER'S ON THE HIGHWAY
by John Del Santo
Whose road is it, anyway ? What will you find in the road right around the next curve ? It would be nice if we could depend on a clear road, but the good rider knows there are more possible hazards along the open highway than space invaders in a video game !
Deer are the most common animal hazard and the most unpredictable. The months of October, November, and December, is the period that motorists are most at risk of colliding with these animals that have no innate sense of avoiding other moving objects.
Drivers would do well to be on high alert during this year-end period. The National Motorist Association reported last that deer-vehicle collisions increased by 20 percent during the preceding five years, even though vehicle miles driven across the U.S. only went up 2 percent during the same period.
Deer will stare at you as you approach and then leap into the road as you reach them. Every year there are well over a hundred-thousand reported collisions with deer, resulting in the loss of more than a hundred human lives.
Be extra alert when visibility us at a low, in areas where trees come up close to the road, and where there are posted deer-warning signs. There is controversy regarding whether deer can hear those little plastic deer-whistles that you can mount on your vehicle. If you see two deer cross the road, expect a third….If you see three, expect a fourth.
Animals don’t wear reflectors at night and can be closer than a hundred feet away when your headlights pick them up. Even at 40 MPH you need more than 100 feet to stop, so swerve around them if you can, but not at the risk of driving into oncoming traffic or into a big Oak tree. Someone’s instantaneous reaction would be to avoid the deer, but if their choice is the deer or a large solid object, then it should be “Sayonara, Bambi” !
Secondary state highways often resemble petting zoo’s for all the animals we find out there. Larger animals may not be as common as deer but can be a lot more deadly. Moose and horses can weigh up to a thousand pounds, and are taller than your bike. A cow on the road can make a massive blockade if you are overdriving your visibility. A “cow” warning sign or steel pipes built into the road (or vertical paint stripes) indicate an Open Range Area where the cows are not fenced in. Many drivers have struck dogs and then were badly bitten when they tried to comfort or move the animal.
Our fellow two-legged critters should know better, but often require as much care and caution as four-legged road hazards. You can expect almost anything in your lane, right around that next bend in the road including a stopped car with the driver taking pictures of the deer that just crossed the road, a flock of joggers, or a herd of bicyclists. It’s best that they be made aware of the fact you are approaching, with a tap on your horn, so they don’t swerve out to avoid a pothole or puddle. Many states require this by law, but prohibit using a horn when approaching a horseback rider.
Whose road is it anyway ? No matter how many wheels or feet the other road users have, and no matter where they pop up from, the good rider will expect the worst and do the best at avoiding hazards. Defensive Riding will take you a long way toward seeing the end of a trip with nothing bigger than bugs stuck to the front of your bike.