Deer collisions deadly for motorcycle riders

Crashes make them the deadliest animal in the country

 
 
Updated 6/30/2015 9:51 PM
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  • Responsible for more deaths each year than sharks, bears and bees combined, deer dart into traffic this time of year and cause accidents. Drivers, motorcyclists and even bicyclists and joggers need to remember that even if they avoid one deer, others likely will follow.

      Responsible for more deaths each year than sharks, bears and bees combined, deer dart into traffic this time of year and cause accidents. Drivers, motorcyclists and even bicyclists and joggers need to remember that even if they avoid one deer, others likely will follow. jstarks | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin police officer James Wilson died after he struck a deer while riding his motorcycle.

    Elgin police officer James Wilson died after he struck a deer while riding his motorcycle. Courtesy of the Willson family

One week ago, James Willson, a 51-year police officer for Elgin, died after a motorcycle accident. The 27-year police veteran was wearing his helmet.

He wasn't speeding.

Elgin officials say he died of a heart attack after he was injured when his motorcycle struck a deer.

For many suburban drivers, encounters with deer lead to expensive repairs or even a trip to the hospital. For motorcyclists, those collisions can be deadly.

Last month, a 31-year-old passenger was killed when the motorcycle she was riding on struck a deer on I-57 north of Mattoon. A 61-year-old Rockford man died in April from injuries suffered after his motorcycle hit a deer two week earlier.

Illinois doesn't specifically tally motorcycle collisions with deer. Of the 10 people killed in crashes with deer last year in Wisconsin, eight of the drivers were on motorcycles, according to that state's department of transportation.

But deer can be fatal even for drivers and passengers in cars with seat belts and air bags.

Long associated with serenity, deer hold the title as the deadliest animal in the United States.

Sharks have attacked seven people this June off the coast of the Carolinas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed some trails and campsites after a black bear attacked a 16-year-old boy earlier this month. On Sunday, a Texas father fought off an alligator that attacked his 13-year-old son. None of these victims died.

On average, sharks, bears and alligators each kill one person a year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Snakes and lizards kill six people a year. Spiders kill seven. Stinging ants and the like kill nine people a year. Cows (none in the wild) kill 20. Dogs kill 28 each year. Horses, pigs and other mammals kill 52 people a year, while bees, wasps and hornets combine for a whopping 58 deaths in a typical year.

Responsible for more deaths than all those other creatures combined, deer are involved in crashes that kill nearly 200 Americans a year.

Cook, Lake and Kane counties rank among the top 10 Illinois counties reporting vehicle-deer collisions, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. In Illinois, collisions with deer increased 1.4 percent last year, as one out of every 211 drivers reported hitting a deer, according to insurance claims compiled by State Farm.

Statistics show West Virginia has the highest rate of such accidents, with one out of every 39 drivers reporting a collision with a deer. Hawaii ranks last with one out of every 10,281 drivers filing a claim involving deer. Nationwide, more than 1.2 million drivers hit deer every year.

YouTube features plenty of videos of deer colliding with cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and even joggers and people zipping down hills on longboards.

While the months of October, November and December see the most traffic accidents involving deer, this time of year can be dangerous because all of the young deer branching out on their own. Most of these collisions occur in the hours around sunset and sunrise, although deer accidents can happen any time of day.

Willson's crash occurred about 11:30 p.m.

The police officer, who lived in Kingston, had a habit of riding his Harley-Davidson to meet one of his twin sons after the 18-year-old finished his work shift. The dad wanted to make sure his son, Austin, who rode a scooter to work, would get home safely on the winding, dark road in DeKalb County, according to a Daily Herald report by Elena Ferrarin. Willson suffered a broken rib in the crash but died of a heart attack.

Known for jittery, unpredictable behavior, wild deer often dart into the path of oncoming vehicles. There is no evidence to prove that "deer whistles" prevent deer from running into a vehicle's path. Sometimes a driver will miss one deer only to collide with a second.

In addition to death and injuries, the national cost per claim after a collision with a deer averaged $3,888 last year, up 13.9 percent from 2013, or more than $4 billion a year, according to the State Farm report.

It's impossible to guard against a collision with a deer, but good skills and good equipment increase a motorcyclist's chances. Wear protective gear, practice braking and swerving, have powerful driving lights, constantly scan roadsides and slow down, says the motorcycle safety organization smarter-usa.org.

If a deer darts in front of you, safety experts say, it is better to apply the brakes than to swerve into another lane, as it is safer to hit a deer than another moving vehicle.

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