Here we are again — the riskiest time of the year for having a collision with a deer on America’s roads — October, November and December.
Deer-strike collisions are stunningly common in the USA. It has been estimated that there are around 1.5 million deer killed in this manner every year.
Hitting a deer can cause a lot of damage to the vehicle concerned but it is actually very rare that the collision will causes injury or death to vehicle occupants if only a deer is struck (as opposed to hitting something else if you swerve).
The word ‘deer’ in the animal’s actual name is critical here, such as white-tail deer, black-tail deer and mule deer. Bigger creatures such as elk or particularly moose can be a whole different ball-game.
The common rule is simple: If a deer runs out in front of you, you may brake as hard as you need to (which is just one reason why it is also important to check your rearview mirror every 4-8 seconds so that you are constantly aware of any vehicles following yours).
But: DO NOT SWERVE FOR A DEER!
Swerving to avoid a deer is far more dangerous than hitting it. This might sound ludicrous but drivers who see a deer run out commonly get so focussed on the animal that they lose sight of any other dangers around them; it’s a form of target-fixation. As a result it is not unusual for drivers who swerve like this to roll their vehicle over in a ditch or hit a tree, or if they swerve left, to hit an oncoming vehicle. The increase in danger can be massive, and sometimes fatal.
If you are confronted by a larger animal, such as an elk, a horse, a cow or — worst of all — a moose, then you must do whatever you can to avoid hitting it. These animals are not only bulkier but also have longer legs, and this makes them much more likely to come up the hood and crash through the windscreen into the passenger compartment. Enough said.
So What is the Solution?
Research has shown that deer whistles and such like, that use airflow outside your vehicle to make a noise which allegedly frightens deer off the road ahead of you, are ineffective.
The key lies in understanding that deer are most mobile around dusk and dawn, and that the three months named above are the most dangerous season because it is the rut, when the animals really do move around a lot.
And then it is crucial to tailor your speed. Just because the speed limit says, perhaps, 55mph doesn’t mean it is safe to go 55! If you are in a deer area and you reduce your speed, there is a much better chance that you will be able to stop in time if one or more of them run in front of you. It really is that simple.