You're driving down a back road, probably going about 50 mph or more, it's pitch dark out and out of the corner of your eye you see something moving. Your senses are heightened, you tense up your grip on the wheel and you see a large mass darting out onto the road. It stops. You hold your breath, but its too late. The deer seemed to be suicidal by the way it just stopped and looked directly at your car while not attempting to save itself. What could you have done? Why do deer do this?
Most of us know someone who has been in a deer related car accident or have been in one personally. Here in Wisconsin, that could be seen as pretty normal considering we ranked seventh place in states that you are most likely to hit a deer in according to State Farm estimations and odds estimations for licensed drivers in each state for the year ending June 30,2014 (Robb, 2015). This seventh place ranking projected that every 1 in 85 accidents in Wisconsin would be caused by a deer (Robb, 2015).
In The State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation final year-end statistics for 2014, there were 18,312 deer crashes out of the total of 119.736 crashes that year ("Final year-end crash statistics"). To put this problem in perspective, that means that while motorcycle accidents made up almost 1.8% of the total crashes that year and alcohol-related accidents about 4.1% , the deer-related accident percentage for Wisconsin 2014 was about 15.3%("Final year-end crash statistics"). However, I personally remember more "don't drink and drive" commercials as well as sad news reports on drunk crashes over deer accident stories. Drunk driving and reminders to watch for motorcycles were more popular topics for insurance company advertisements or police stations campaigns because drunk driving is arguably more preventable than a deer encounter.
Since deer-related car accident commercials did not seem as frequent, I remember when Allstate had the mayhem character play as a deer who froze in the headlights of a car, explaining that he froze because "that's what we deer do". (Allstate Insurance, 2012).
Indeed, that is what deer do, but there is a reason behind their seemingly irrational behavior. October through December is mating season for deer in Northern America, therefore "they are so focused on mating, they're not thinking straight" comments University of Alberta biologist Rob Found in a report by Doyle Rice from USA Today (2011). Deer may wander into the road, sometimes following other deer across because they are too busy running from a suitor or pursuing a mate per se. Once a deer looks up into your head lights, however, it may be game over. "Deer are crepuscular" says deer biologist David Yancy, meaning that their vision is geared towards low light, so an hour before and after sunrise or sunset their eyes will be more dilated (Ray, 2010). Dilated eyes capture as much light as possible so if they look into head lights the light will be too much and actually blind them so that they freeze as they wait for their eyes to adjust (Ray, 2010). Compared to humans, deer may as well be legally blind because they can only discern details within 20 yards away while humans can see object details as far as 200 yards away (Ray, 2010). This might explain why they walk out onto the road in the first place when you think your oncoming car is in plain sight. All of this might make avoiding a deer accident seem impossible but there are still important recommendations to remember that could help lessen the severity of an accident or even avoid one altogether.
Here are some tips to remember in case you are unlucky enough to have a deer strut out on the road in front of you:
1. Watch for deer crossing signs. Biologist Rob Found discovered that when deer crossing signs are strategically placed in areas where deer are known to cross it can reduce car crashes by 34% in those areas (Rice, 2011).
2. Buckle up. When you see these signs, make sure you are buckled up, it is the best way to survive a deer car accident. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found in a 2004 study that 60% of people who actually died from deer-related car accidents were not wearing seat belts (Rice, 2011).
3. Don't swerve or brake. "The leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths from deer-related accidents is when vehicles swerve" states a Heath Research Funding article (21 Significant Deer Car Accidents Statistics, 2014). This could cause a accident with drivers in another lane or cause a back-up collision. Maybe your thinking you will swerve if there is no one around, this is also not suggested. If you swerve and hit a street post, light pole or other object and no one was around, there is no way to prove to your insurance company or the police that there was ever a deer at all. Deer accidents are generally covered by your comprehensive coverage of your car insurance policy anyhow so it would be financially smarter as well as better for your safety to keep driving straight, slow down and hope the deer moves ( (21 Significant Deer Car Accidents Statistics, 2014).
4. Be extra careful during October-December as well as during sunrise and sunset times. This is when they are most active and likely to run onto the road ("Deer Danger", 2013).
5. Dip your high beams when you see a deer. This may prevent it from becoming temporarily blind and standing still, otherwise having the high beams on will help you to see a deer further in the distance, just don't flash other drivers ("Deer Danger", 2013).
6. If hit, find a safe place to pull over and report the accident.
Deer-related car accidents can be scary, and quite plausible given the state you live in. Here in Wisconsin our chances of hitting a deer are a real enough danger that everyone should know these easy tips to help lessen the damage of, or even avoid a deer car accident. Next time your driving on a back road at dusk, remember to look for signs, always be buckled up, keep your high beams on unless a dear appears, and do not swerve. Drive safe!
[Allstate Insurance]. (2012. May 31). Wild Deer Commercial | Allstate Mayhem. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=893HhPM_0ks
"Deer danger ." AA. N.p., 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Ray, C. Claiborne. "The Twilight Zone." The New York Times. N.p., 29 Nov. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Rice, Doyle. "Deer-car collisions increase this time of year." USA Today News. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Robb, Bob. "Deer-Car Collisions Ranked By State." Grand View Outdoors. N.p., 7 Sept. 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
"21 Significant Deer Car Accidents Statistics." Heath Research Funding. N.p., 13 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.