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Animal Hazards
Swerve or Panic Stop?

By: James R. Davis

It doesn't happen very often but even while traveling on a freeway you can suddenly be confronted with an animal in your path. Certainly it happens with some frequency in the country, and on city streets you must be ever concerned about usually domesticated types.

Those of us who ride in the country tend to confront five types of animals with some regularity: deer, dogs, cattle, birds and horses in roughly that order of frequency. On surface streets there are usually just two varieties: dogs and children (both an animal and wildlife in my book.) Dogs on a freeway are usually road kill before you get to them.

If you see an animal in your path, given plenty of warning, the obvious best move is to slow down and give it as wide a clearance as possible. However, in the case of an animal that 'was in front of me out of nowhere' situations, you have an immediate decision to make ... to swerve and try to avoid it, or to panic stop.

That is a false choice to make! If you think that you can figure out where a deer is going to be in the next 5 seconds, you are dead wrong! But more than that, if you think that you can, in a panic, swerve your motorcycle and retain control of it - not run into oncoming traffic, or the side of the mountain, or off the road, or oversteer it into a crash after avoiding the animal, or swerve right into the animal which has jumped into your new path, then you are probably also of the opinion that it can't happen to you in any event.

If you hit a cement truck at 5 mph you will probably walk away from it. If you hit ANYTHING while traveling at 50 mph or faster, you probably will not. The difference is your speed. Swerving does not reduce your speed. What it will do is give away some control.

Your best move is almost always to try a CONTROLLED panic stop. Do not lose control of your bike. Minimize the speed of impact. If you are good, and practiced, you might not hit anything at all. Even if luck is against you you will probably still walk away from it.

I can hear it now: "Even if it's a child?" Absolutely! If that child decides to make a dash for his/her life and chooses (like you) the wrong direction to run in, then you will hit that child with a greater (faster) impact swerving to avoid him/her than if you try to stop the bike.

Of course you aren't doing 50 mph or greater on city streets, right? You are covering your front brake while riding on city streets, right?

Play the odds in your head before you get into the situation. Condition yourself - bias yourself - panic stops are not a bad thing.

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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