For some reason, deer and other large animals (like elk and moose) never seem to obey those Deer Crossing signs you see along roads and highways. Maybe they’re just natural scofflaws, or perhaps they just don’t believe the rules apply to them, too. This just means that the responsibility for preventing deer-car accidents falls on the shoulders of drivers.
But seriously, when wild animals venture out onto the blacktop, bad things tend to happen. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents occur each year in the United States, causing about 10,000 personal injuries (to people) and about $1 billion in damage to vehicles. Though it’s usually the deer and the car that end up on the losing end of the deal, about 200 people lose their lives each year due to vehicle collisions with deer.
For drivers, the only solution is to take some commonsense precautions to help prevent deer-car accidents.
When to Watch Out
Though a car-deer collision can technically happen at any time of the day or night, there are some specific times when extra vigilance is required. Deer tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, and the hours from sundown to midnight are their favorite times to feed. Be especially careful when driving during these hours—especially in areas where Deer Crossing signs are posted or where you’ve seen animals in the past.
Also, the breeding season for both white-tailed and mule deer goes from October through January, and both species tend to be much more active and mobile during these months. Winter conditions make deer much more likely to venture closer to populated areas to find food. In addition, driving conditions in much of the country are more challenging during the winter months. That’s why winter tends to be the “perfect storm” of deer danger.
Where to Watch Out
Except for a few very arid regions in southern Arizona and California, deer can be found virtually everywhere in the U.S. Though it’s not uncommon to see deer wandering blithely through a suburban neighborhood, they’re most commonly seen in wooded or forested areas, or in the boundaries between wild and agricultural land.
What to Watch For
Obviously, deer don’t actually watch for Deer Crossing signs; the signs are placed there to alert drivers. Deer prefer to browse where they have ready access to cover, so any road that goes through or near the woods has the potential for deer danger. Pro-tip: if you see a dead deer on the highway, that’s probably a good area to be extra vigilant.
Also, deer are herd animals, so if you see one there are likely a dozen or more that you don’t see.
How to Avoid Collisions
Two words: slow down.
In any area where deer are possible on the road, reducing your speed is your best defensive measure. Take it easy on blind hills and curves, too, as you’re likely to come around the bend and find Bambi standing in the road, staring placidly at you.
While driving through wooded country roads, use your high-beams as much as possible. This will illuminate much more of the areas on either side of the road. Animals tend to turn their heads to look at vehicles, so watch for “eyeshine” as your headlights are reflected in the eyes of deer.
If you encounter animals in the roadway, don’t swerve to avoid them. Instead, slow or stop and wait for them to move. Blowing a single, long blast from your car’s horn can sometimes help. Especially on winding mountain roads, moving into the other lane to get around a deer is rarely a good idea, as other vehicles could approach from the other direction.
It sounds odd, but many deer-vehicle accidents involve a deer hitting a car rather than the other way around. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to avoid a collision with an animal that darts out in front of you. The slower your vehicle is traveling, the less damage to the vehicle and deer involved—and the lower likelihood of injuring a person in the vehicle.
A Final Note on Insurance
Note that if you hit a deer with your car, your first concern should be the safety of yourself and your passengers. If anyone is injured, your first call should be to 9-1-1. Even if no people are hurt, in most jurisdictions you should still call the police or sheriff’s department. They’ll need to write an accident report and possibly haul away the deer carcass.
After you’ve taken care of those immediate needs, you should call your insurance company. Note that deer-car accidents actually aren’t typically covered under your auto collision coverage. Instead, this type of damage is generally handled under your comprehensive coverage. If you have collision but not comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, you’ll likely be responsible for all damages if you happen to hit a deer with your car.