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OH DEER! Stay Out of My Way

By on September 1, 2016
Deer crossing a desert road.

Now is the Time to Prepare Yourself & Your Truck

BY: David A. Kolman, Senior Editor

It had been a smooth, uneventful trip, when, unexpectedly, things turned ominous. It was mid-October of last year. I was calmly trailer trucking along a two-lane rural highway with both windows down, enjoying the cool temperature. It was just before sunrise when abruptly, a large deer bounded onto the roadway from the field on my right. He froze in place when he noticed my headlights.

Instinctively, I mashed the brakes and yanked the air horn. The deer stayed put, apparently too scared to move. I realized I wasn’t going to stop in time.

It was at that moment some sage advice I received from a veteran trucker—when I first got into trucking many years ago—popped into my head. “Always remember that wildlife are unpredictable,” he said. “The best thing to do is to aim for the animal. They’ll most likely run off, but you won’t know which way that will be.”

I mentally thanked that trucker for his guidance. Overcoming the natural instinct to not hit a living being, I stayed my course. Sure enough, that deer ran off, but not in the direction I had mentally guessed.

Prime Time

Because of my close encounter, I looked into deer-vehicle collisions to learn how I could better prepare to handle such an occurrence. To my surprise, I found that deer-vehicle collisions are a significant safety issue, and a costly one.

Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimate there are some 1.6 million deer-vehicle collisions annually in the U.S., causing more than 200 fatalities, tens of thousands of injuries and more than $4 billion in vehicle damage. That does not include the costs of unscheduled vehicle downtime and loss of fleet productivity.

Most deer-vehicle collisions occur during the months of October through early December, typically at dawn and dusk when deer are the most active.

Those months are their migration and mating season—a time when male deer go into rut and begin actively searching for mates.

Both of these situations greatly contribute to the increased movement of deer. Compounding matters is the rise in deer populations in recent years.

Collision Avoidance Tips

I visited with safety officials to learn if drivers could take extra precautions to help prevent deer-vehicle accidents. They informed me that the most effective way to avoid deer-vehicle collisions—or collisions with any type of animal, or other vehicle for that matter—is through attentive driving behavior. They also noted that driver reaction usually dictates the severity of any accident.

Following are their recommended precautions to keep drivers safe and minimize the chances of colliding with a deer:

Heed “deer crossing” signs. Decrease speed in these areas and drive with extra caution. Be especially watchful near woods, farmland, water and areas known to have a large deer population. Keep your eyes moving and continually glance to both sides of the road.

The sooner a deer is seen on or approaching a roadway, the greater your chance of avoiding a crash.

Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences, reflectors and other devices to deter deer. Studies have shown them to be largely ineffective.

At night, use high-beam headlights to better illuminate the edges of the road where deer may linger. Look for light reflected from a deer’s eyes. Keep in mind that headlights tend to hypnotize deer when a vehicle approaches.

If a deer is spotted, be alert, slow down quickly and sound the horn in a long blast to try and scare it away.

Deer are unpredictable, especially when confronted with glaring headlights, blaring horns and moving vehicles. A deer calmly standing on the side of a road may bolt into or across the road rather than away from it when startled by a vehicle. Never assume to know which way a deer will move.

Deer generally travel in groups. Therefore, if one is spotted, more are usually nearby, as deer often move in groups and in single file.

Always wear a seat belt. This can reduce injuries if a collision can’t be avoided.

If a collision with a deer seems inevitable, brake firmly and attempt to stop. Resist the urge to swerve to try avoiding a deer, as vehicle control may be lost. This increases 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. A frightened and wounded deer can hurt you or further injure itself. Report the accident to the Game Commission or local law enforcement.

Grill Guards

Some fleets and truckers are adding grill guards to protect their vehicles’ front ends should a collision with a large animal occur. You can select from a wide variety of styles and models, but all are intended to reduce costly frontend damage, and thus lessen the downtime required for repairs.

TOP-FIVE STATES

According to the latest research (late 2015) from insurance provider State Farm, the states with the worst odds for drivers filing a claim based on a deer, elk or moose collision are:

State Odds

1. West Virginia 1 in 44

2. Montana 1 in 63

3. Iowa 1 in 68

4. Pennsylvania 1 in 70

5. South Dakota 1 in 73

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