We’re a few weeks away from deer migration and mating season, when deer roam and forage for food in preparation for the long winter. A time of year that, unfortunately, coincides with a sharp rise in deer-related crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates roughly 1.5 million deer-related accidents happen per year, and more than half of these accidents occur in the months of October and November. The NHTSA claims that the average cost per accident is $1,000, which equates to an estimated $1.5 billion in total damages per year.
Considering the fact that the deer population in the U.S. is currently 20 to 30 million, 1.5 million deer-related accidents per year is an alarming number. What’s more alarming is that the average number of human deaths directly linked to deer-related collisions reaches up to 150 or even higher.
Every year, one out of 164 drivers is expected to hit a deer. When you get into the top five states with the highest probability of deer-related accidents, the odds are dramatically higher:
- West Virginia – 1 in 46
- Montana – 1 in 57
- Pennsylvania – 1 in 63
- Wisconsin – 1 in 72
- Iowa – 1 in 73
To avoid injuring yourself, your passengers, and the deer, we came up with three guidelines in dealing with deer-related collisions: prevention, reaction, and post-collision.
Prevention: How to Avoid Hitting a Deer
To prevent the unfortunate event of hitting a deer, you need to learn a few things about their habits and take on some habits of your own to increase your awareness and reflexes.
Remember when deer are most active.
Apart from knowing which areas have high deer populations, you also need to be aware of the times that deer are most active, which are at dusk, dawn, and between 12:00 A.M. to 2:00 A.M. Unfortunately, this can be the perfect formula for a disaster since these are the times that drivers tend to get drowsy. If you absolutely need to drive during these times, make sure you stay alert.
Make sure your car is in good shape.
Before you head out on the road, be sure to thoroughly check your vehicle, especially your brakes, suspension, and tires. It’s essential to keep these parts in good condition to ensure optimal stopping performance.
Pay close attention to the road and refrain from speeding.
Minding the road and not speeding may sound cliche, but it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent accidents of all kinds. Speeding often leads to tunnel vision, which could explain why crossing animals may seem to appear out of nowhere.
Paying close attention to road signs is doable at legal speeds. Most deer accident-prone areas have an abundance of “Deer Crossing” signs. However, even without the warning signs, it’s important to be vigilant at all times.
Use high beams except on populated roads.
High beams are designed to illuminate the road at a higher angle. If a deer suddenly jumps in your path to cross the street, a low beam light might not catch it right away. Switching on your high beams will help widen your vision in poorly lit areas with minimal traffic.
Remember to switch back to low beam approximately 500 feet away from oncoming traffic as it could temporarily blind oncoming drivers.
Reaction: How to React When a Deer Jumps in Front of Your Car
Next, you need to learn how best to react in case a deer suddenly appears right in front of your car. The leading cause of injuries and deaths from deer-related accidents is the evasive maneuver drivers tend to do when they see a deer crossing the street. Swerving to the left would lead you into oncoming traffic, while swerving to the right could lead you into a tree, ditch, fence, or infrastructure.
To increase your chances of receiving minimal damage, hold firmly onto the steering wheel and apply the brakes until you’ve come to a full stop. If your car does not have an ABS, you may initiate a slide.
The best-case scenario is you’re able to stop before hitting the deer. But if hitting the deer is inevitable, you should aim to reduce the impact as much as possible. Make sure you don’t swerve so you don’t hit other cars or any hard objects on the side of the road.
Post-Collision: What to Do If You Hit a Deer
Even if you take precautions by driving carefully and paying full attention to the road, a deer could suddenly appear in front of your car, and even if you react quickly, the distance between your car and the deer could be so short that you wouldn’t have time to bring your vehicle to a full stop. If you find yourself in a collision, here’s what you should do:
Check yourself and your passengers for possible injuries.
The first and most important thing to do after the event of any collision is to check whether you or your passengers are injured. This information is important for filing a passenger injury claim. Do this before exiting the vehicle.
1. Turn your hazard lights on.
Be it a deer, a car, a pole, or a barrier, flicking your hazard lights on is one of the most critical items in your to-do list. This will signal all approaching vehicles on both sides of the road of the hazard ahead. If your car won’t start, you should place warning triangles around it.
2. If possible, move your vehicle to the side of the road.
If the engine is still running after the crash, your best option is to drive it to the side of the road. This will help keep you and others on the road safe if the crash happened in a populated area. Even after you’ve pulled over to the side of the road, make sure you still place warning triangles around to indicate your car and the deer as hazards.
3. Dial 911.
Once your car is safely parked on the side, call 911, or if you are unable to, ask a passerby or one of your passengers to contact authorities. Explain what happened to the dispatcher and wait for the police to arrive. The police will make the appropriate incident report, which is important for your insurance claim. They can also help you get a safe ride home if your car is badly damaged.
4. Document the scene while waiting for authorities.
The police will document the scene as soon as they arrive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t document it on your own. Taking photos as evidence will be helpful for your insurance claim. If there are witnesses to the accident, be sure to get a statement and their contact information in case they need to retell the events.
5. Don’t touch or lift the deer from its position.
Whatever happens, even if the deer cries in pain, do not attempt to approach it. Deer are powerful animals and a kick from their hooves can injure or even incapacitate you. For your safety, stand at least a few feet away from the injured animal when taking photos for documentation.
6. Give your car a thorough check.
Inspect your car and ensure all essential components like your lights, turn signals, engine, and suspension are working fine before attempting to drive away from the scene. Make sure there are no fluid leaks underneath your car either. You wouldn’t want to get involved in another accident right after the deer collision due to malfunctioning parts. If your car is not working properly, you might have to call for a tow truck to transport your vehicle from the area.
7. Call your insurance company.
It’s important that your insurance claim gets processed as soon as possible after the accident has taken place. So after you’ve called 911 and documented the scene, call your insurance agent right away. Keep in mind that insurance policies vary depending on the company, but deer-related crashes usually fall under comprehensive insurance, not collision. Carefully review your insurance policy with your agent.