Deer-related auto accidents have consistently risen over the years due to increasing deer populations and urban sprawl. As roads are built through these areas, deer and their habitats are being displaced by urban sprawl. And, of course, as automobile travel increases, incidents of automobile-deer encounters, likewise, increase.
The encounter between a deer and a vehicle on October 2 on New York roadway was an all-too common occurrence with uncommonly deadly results. Police said one vehicle hit a deer and left the road, striking large rocks before it landed in a creek bed. The 19-year-old driver was pronounced dead at the scene. A 17-year-old female passenger was airlifted to Erie County Medical Center with serious injuries. Early this year, a Wisconsin man was killed when a deer that had been struck by another vehicle slammed into the front of the vehicle in which he was a passenger. The deer became airborne and went through the windshield crashing into the passenger.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 1 million auto accidents with deer each year, resulting in more than 10,000 injuries, 200 deaths, and in $1 billion in vehicle damage. Statistically, most car-deer accidents occur between October and December, deer breeding and migration season. While deer can be active any time of the day, periods of high-deer movement are typically early in the morning and at dusk. Because deer are unpredictable creatures, and their actions and movements can be erratic, it is important for drivers to stay alert, avoid speeding, limit distractions, and expect the unexpected.
Drivers may not be able to totally eliminate all encounters with a deer, but the risks can be minimizes by following these tips:
Watch for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. Keeping a close eye on the roadways and the side of the roads.
Watch your speed. Slow down during dawn and dusk which coincides with morning and evening rush hour traffic. More deer-related auto accidents occur at night because the deer are more hidden from the driver’s sight, and vehicle headlights can disorient deer causing them to run in front of, or into a moving vehicle
Watch for deer-crossing signs. These signs are posted in areas where accidents and deer activity have been reported. Be mindful that absence of a warning sign does not mean deer inactivity.
At night, use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on the side of the road. If you encounter a deer, switch to low beam so the animal is not blinded.
Honk your horn and flash your headlights to frighten deer away. Deer often seem to be disoriented or confused by headlights. Some react by freezing in the light; some dart into the path of the vehicle.
Avoid swerving when you see a deer. Brake firmly, but stay in your lane. It’s better to hit the deer, than to swerve into oncoming traffic or off the road into a tree or some other solid object.
Deer seldom run alone. If you see one deer, others may be nearby. Deer often travel in a single file line. So if you see one cross a road, there may be more nearby. When startled by an approaching vehicle, they often panic and dart out from any direction without warning.
Wearing your seat belt at all times. Reports show that 60% of fatal accidents with deer were the result of people not wearing a seat belt.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.