Deer in the Headlights

By on January 1, 2010
RoadKing Mag

It was one of those early October mornings just made for trailer trucking. I was piloting my rig along a two-lane rural highway, enjoying the cool temperature, the star-filled sky and a lack of traffic.

My calm came to an abrupt halt as a deer suddenly bounded onto the roadway from a corn field on my right. Making matters worse, it froze upon noticing my headlights. I slowed down and hit the air horn, but the deer stayed put, too scared to get out of the way.

Realizing I wasn’t going to be able to stop in time, some advice I received from a veteran trucker when I first got into trucking many years ago came to mind: “Aim for the deer. They’ll most likely run off, but you won’t know which way.”
Overcoming the natural instinct to not hit a live being, I steered for the deer, guessing it would run across the road. I was wrong. The deer ran back the way it had come. I quietly thanked that veteran trucker for his sage advice.

This being my first deer-vehicle encounter, I contacted safety officials to learn more about avoiding a second encounter.
The majority of deer-vehicle collisions occur during the fall and winter as this is the deer migration and mating season, and deer are the most active. More accidents occur during the night, or anytime between dusk and dawn, because deer are nocturnal animals and spend most of their time foraging during these periods. Safety officials told me the most effective way to avoid deer-vehicle collisions is through attentive driving behavior. They noted that driver reaction usually dictates the severity of such accidents.

They recommended a number of precautions to keep drivers safe and minimize the chances of colliding with a deer when driving:
• Heed “deer crossing” signs and decrease speed. Be especially watchful in areas near woods, farmland and water. When driving past these areas, keep your eyes moving and continually glance to both sides of the road.
• Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer.
• At night, use high-beam headlights to better illuminate the edges of the road where deer may linger. Look for the reflection of light in a deer’s eyes.
• Headlights tend to hypnotize deer. If a deer is spotted, slow down quickly and sound the horn to try and scare it away.
• If one deer is spotted, more are usually nearby. They often travel single file.
• Deer are unpredictable in their movements, especially when confronted with glaring headlights, blaring horns and moving vehicles. Don’t assume to know which way a deer will move.
• If a collision seems inevitable, brake firmly and attempt to stop. Do not swerve to avoid deer as vehicle control may be lost, increasing the risk of injury by hitting another vehicle or a fixed object like a tree or guardrail.
• If a deer is struck, stay away from it. It may just be stunned and could become very aggressive if aroused. Report the accident to the Game Commission or local law enforcement.

Be careful out there. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates there are 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions annually in the U.S., causing more than 150 fatalities and 10,000 injuries.

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