The state where I live has a huge population of whitetail deer, and is listed as having the 2nd highest number of car-deer accidents per year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (TSA). There is always a high risk of hitting one with a car. Since deer weigh from 50 to 200 pounds, depending on age and size, such crashes always cause significant damage to most vehicles. In addition, animals that die in the roadway can create a hazard for other drivers even after they are dead.
The TSA reports over 1.5 million car-deer collisions a year, with an average cost of damages over $1000. Although the ratio of encounters to deaths is low, there are about 200 human fatalities a year in such crashes.
Interestingly enough, there are usually fewer than 10 deaths per year, in all of North America, from encounters with bears. One might actually conclude that the whitetail deer is the most dangerous animal on the continent!
So, are there ways to reduce the likelihood that you and your vehicle will connect with a deer? Although deer are very fast and unpredictable, there are some ways to improve your chances of remaining unscathed.
These suggestions are based more on personal experience than any official publications.
1. Most car-deer accidents occur from October to December. This is because it is the rutting season, and bucks tend to lose any shred of common sense they may possess. They may be chasing groups of does, and even deer who may be attentive to traffic at other times of the year can be pretty stupid in the late fall. They may even run into the side of your car. Be especially vigilant at this time of year.
2. Deer are mostly nocturnal, and move around the most at dusk and dawn. Try to avoid driving at these times of day. At the very least, pay more attention at these times.
3. Be especially observant on the first few days of firearm hunting season. Deer don’t have any trouble figuring out when they are being shot at, and their normal traffic patterns are often disturbed. If you have the option, don’t drive on those days.
4. Don’t overdrive your headlights. This means to drive so fast that you can not stop in the distance ahead that is illuminated by your lights.
5. Slow down in rural areas, particularly if there are deer crossing signs. These warnings are posted in areas where deer are known to travel regularly. I live about 2/10 of a mile from one of these signs, and there are at least two deer hit in that particular area almost every year.
6. Recently developed farmland can still have high deer populations. Increasing traffic in these areas increases the risk of collisions.
7. Ask local people where the areas are with the greatest danger. If you have just moved to a new place, or are visiting for several days, don’t be shy about asking for advice. There are almost always specific areas that locals will avoid whenever possible, for good reason. Where I live, no one likes to drive “Deer Alley” at dusk or dawn. I’m not kidding; that is the road’s local nickname.
8. I don’t have any statistics, but locally-wise people know that if you see one deer cross in front of you, you are probably going to hit the second one. Deer seldom travel singly. It’s a common lament; “I missed the first one, but I hit the second one.” So if you see a deer in the road, even if it is moving away, slow down immediately.
9. If you see deer beside the road, slow down now! They are just as likely to run right in front of you as they are to fade into the woods.
10. Wear your seatbelt. This is the law in most states, but people still don’t do it. It’s a really simple way to avoid serious personal injury in front end crashes, the most common type of car-deer accidents.
11. “Whistlers” that you attach to your car don’t work. They are supposed to create a high-pitched sound that warns the deer off. If you have sensitive ears, they will drive you insane, but the deer don’t seem to care much.
12. Don’t think that if there is a fence along the road that this will stop deer. Deer can easily jump 6-foot fences, 8-foot-high ones will stop some proportion of deer, but highways seldom install fencing that high.
13. If you realize that a collision is imminent, DON’T try to swerve. Press firmly on the brake and stay in your lane. That deer, even if 200 pounds, is a lot more forgiving than another vehicle or a tree. Losing control and hitting other objects is much more likely to result in injury or death.
Finally, if you do hit a deer, and it is injured, be very careful about approaching it. If it is running around, stay in your car. If it is on the ground, but alive, it may still be able to kick. Deer have very sharp hooves. A buck may raise its head and thrust its antlers at you. Any injured animal can be very dangerous.
Different states have different laws about reporting such accidents, so you should inform yourself as to the local regulations.