5 deer safety lessons learned from a motorcycle crash

Oct. 22, 2020

Bill Shaffer sitting on his motorcycle


Some of the beautiful fall leaves are still hanging around here in Minnesota, but now they’re covered in the season’s first snow. Still, you may be hoping it all melts away, so you can enjoy more of the riding season before packing up your motorcycle for the winter. Whether your next ride is this weekend or next April, it’s important to keep deer safety top-of-mind.

Just ask Bill Shaffer, coordinator of the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC). Last year, Bill had serious motorcycle crash involving a deer. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale, and he came away with some important lessons.

Shaffer has been riding for over 40 years, taken over two dozen training courses, and was wearing his helmet and all his riding gear. And yet when three deer came out of the woods in front of Shaffer that beautiful April evening, he didn’t have enough time to stop. His attempt to swerve behind one deer resulted in a collision, and he ended up with eight broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a bruised lung, and lots of other bruising and swelling.

Shaffer is candid about how the outcome could have been different. Below are his main takeaways from the crash. You can find other safe riding tips on our website, including what to do when you encounter an animal.

  1. Wear a helmet. The crash scraped up Shaffer’s helmet significantly, even taking the face shield off. “Had I not been wearing a helmet that night, I might have been killed,” he says, “Or at the very least suffered some type of brain injury.”
  2. Consider your reaction time. Shaffer believes that if he had swerved a fraction of a second sooner, he would have missed the deer and avoided the crash altogether. But he knows that “as you get older, you get slower.” He explains, “One of the things I think about is as you age, you really need to think about your reaction time.”
  3. Wear the gear. Shaffer was wearing an armored jacket, armored pants, motorcycle boots and heavy riding gloves. And although his injuries were significant, he says, “Had I not had my gear on, I would have sustained a lot more serious injuries than I had and possibly even been killed.”
  4. Avoid low-light conditions. This is especially important in the spring and fall, when deer and other wildlife are more active. Shaffer was coming home in the dark from a meeting 100 miles away with his auxiliary lighting on when he had his crash. He says, “That’s going to make me think twice in the future…really being extra cautious and trying to avoid those low-light conditions.”
  5. Remember: strategy, skills, and gear. It’s important to think ahead about what you’ll do in various unexpected situations on your bike. But a strategy isn’t enough if you don’t have the skills to execute it. That’s why taking a motorcycle training course every year or two is so beneficial. And if for any reason the first two don’t work – as they didn’t for Shaffer in this case – good gear will protect you and can even save your life.

Despite his crash, Shaffer still loves riding. After he healed up and had his strength back, getting back on his bike felt really good. But he now rides more wisely and cautiously because of what he learned from that crash. Fortunately, we can learn from it too.