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If you have committed to whipping down the windy country roads without the protective encasing of a metal cage (e.g. a car), then you really owe it to yourself to understand the nature of any beasts that may cross your path of travel. No one really plans to hit them. And inevitably someone does.

You need to know both what to expect and how to respond. One chief instructor with whom I taught put it in a very gripping, visual way. “If you can eat it in one sitting, ride over it; otherwise, avoid it.” A single-track vehicle with a squishy bloody mess oozing out from under the wheels can see you sliding off the road, potentially putting you in an even more hazardous situation (e.g. under an oncoming vehicle, into a rock-face mountain, over an embankment, etc.). Understanding common animals and anticipating their behaviour may help you reduce the risk of contact (though even that is no guarantee). It’s beyond the scope of this column to teach you emergency manoeuvres, but there are some good schools around that can do that for you.

I recently had the distinct displeasure of witnessing a deer go airborne on the country highway while heading home. As I helped the car driver gather the fender bits off the highway, I could only contemplate what it might have looked like had a motorcyclist hit the deer instead of the car.

The following evening I learned another deer went down, this one hit by a motorcyclist. When I first heard of it, I hoped that the rider fared better than the deceased deer she saw on the side of the road. I’m happy to report that he did, though he did suffer a leg broken in two places and had to undergo surgery. Definitely not a fun way to end the day.

Here’s what you need to know about animals.

Deer typically evade their enemy by “stotting.” Stotting (or pronking or pronging) involves jumping high into the air by lifting all four feet off the ground simultaneously. And, yes, they will stot directly into oncoming traffic. Or blindly charge and hope for the best. Also, deer typically travel in groups. If you see one, slow down and expect to see others. And finally, know that they populate the roadside starting at dusk and well into the night.

Dogs that chase vehicles run toward a point of contact. If kicked, they might (depending on the breed) attach themselves to your leg and you will find yourself travelling with a not-so-lovely leg ornament. You need to ride toward that point of contact, then, at the last moment, speed up and swerve away.

Squirrels and cats establish a “safe route.” This route is self-defined as safe if they have previously navigated it safely. When faced with an oncoming car, cats and squirrels immediately launch back to their safe route to seek their escape. So a squirrel can be two feet away from the destination side when it spots a vehicle and chooses to run back along its safe route … only to never live to see another day.

Skunks simply own the road. They’ll steadily move forward, and run away from nothing. Don’t slow down for them. They don’t like their personal space invaded. (OK, so we don’t have skunk on Vancouver Island, but if you ever want to go anywhere else in Canada you might care to know this as you can’t really wash a motorcycle in tomato juice.)

A friend of mine recently had a run-in with an animal of the metal persuasion (a car) that saw him fly off his bike and go scraping along the highway’s asphalt. The bike was totalled, his gear ruined. Dave swears that it was the gear that saved his life. And he is planning to keep his gear, to show it in class to the potential SQUIDs out there.

Yep, one more animal worth mentioning. It’s the SQUID riders (the Stupidly Quick, Underdressed and Imminently Dead, like the Hamilton rider arrested in 2010 for riding without, believe-it-or-not, pants) who really need to be forewarned. Accidents are never planned. So slow down, dress appropriately all the time, and arm yourself with all the knowledge you can get.

The bottom line, as with pretty well everything else in life, rests with you. You may not be able to control what any other animal does, but you can decide what you do. You can avoid all road kill by crawling under your bed and staying there for life, or you can take your chances and secure your optimum safety by gearing up properly. No one plans to do down, but it clearly happens.

There are plenty of schools out there that can teach you more about proper gear, typical animal behaviour and appropriate emergency manoeuvres. Go ahead. Sign up. I dare you. But, for goodness sake, remember to wear pants.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Santowski is also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.


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3 Responses to “Roadkill: dinner or disaster?”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:48 pmJG

    Response received by email


    Hello: I read your TC article this morning and was surprised to read of no skunk on the island. Last Saturday my granddaughter and I were driving up to the ferries, and about halfway there we smelled skunk faintly, and farther along near McDonald Road, a very strong odor. I’m familiar with skunk cabbage in other areas, but this seemed like the real thing; have they possibly migrated here?

    Thanks, I enjoyed the article.


  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:48 pmJ.M.

    Response received by email


    Hi Britt:

    I have just read your most interesting article in the Times Colonist (August 20th) and it has provided me with some valuable information about animal behaviour on our roads.

    On another topic, perhaps you could give me with some advice regarding driving lessons. Years ago while living in Ontario, my brother had a job which required him to travel quite extensively by car every day. Before he started the job, he had to take a one day course at the B.P. Skid School, which was located somewhere near the 401 Highway in Toronto. He said that you were set free in your car on this large piece of pavement which had been made slippery with oil (go figure, B.P. and lots of oil) whereby you had to take the appropriate action when the car swerved out of control. The instructions drilled the proper driving skills into the students on the track as well as in classroom sessions. To this day he is and has been an excellent driver throughout his lifetime and always maintained that course had been the best driver training he’d ever been given. When his son began driving years later, he was put through the same school.

    As I have a young son who will be driving soon, I was wondering if you know of any such school here in BC that offers this training. We would be willing to go over to Vancouver if necessary. Even though my wife and I have been driving for over forty years, we too would be interested in signing up. Thank you in advance.


  3. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:49 pmJ. McG

    Response received by email


    Hi Britt – I enjoy your column., A short while ago a Liberal Party staffer was killed en route to work in Ottawa. The media coverage attributed his death to head injury and I wondered if anything was known or said publicly about his helmet. Something seems a bit off about that event. Very sad to be sure but is there anything that can be learned from it?

    J. McG

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