We have all seen deer lying on the sides of roadways after being hit and killed by a vehicle. According to insurers, the odds of a vehicle collision involving a deer are 1 in 300 in an average year of driving in Washington. In the latest issue of the Cascadia Weekly, the “Index” page listed statistics that point to a dramatic increase in deer fatalities every November. November is the peak of mating season for deer, and in fact, more than half of all collisions occur between October and November. With a few precautions, drivers can reduce their chances of killing an animal in a sad and traumatizing accident.
Drive the speed limit. These limits are set quite intentionally, with city officials and traffic engineers taking into account many factors. Driving the speed limit optimized your stopping time. (Besides, studies show speeding doesn’t get you there any faster anyway!) The more stopping time you have, the better chance you’ll have to spot and avoid a deer considering or executing a road crossing. It may be helpful to try to see it from the animal’s perspective: they’ve had to adapt to the reality of cars we humans created in a blip of time in the lifespan of their species, and we can’t expect deer to cross only at crosswalks. Deer can become confused by cars, especially when they are temporarily blinded by headlights, and may be fearful. I would be nervous crossing a road myself in these circumstances, so it’s easy to see what is going on for the animal too. So just slow down and pay attention.
If it’s possible, drivers should come to a full stop while animals get all the way across. Also, be aware that often deer travel in herds, so if there’s one in the road already there may be more getting ready to cross. Putting your hazard lights on will alert other drivers to slow down and let the animals cross unharmed.
Be extra watchful during dawn and dusk. Here’s my chance to use this beautiful and rarely used word: crepuscular. Deer are crepuscular, which means they are more active at dawn and dusk. These are times a day biologically safer for a deer: they are prey animals and have better cover than at day, and they don’t have night vision. However, visibility is poor for drivers at these times. Turn on your headlights so that you can alert the animals to your presence. Watch for the shine of eyes along the roadside and immediately begin to slow.
Pay extra attention if you’re driving in wooded areas. Which is pretty much anywhere in Bellingham. Deers live in woods. Also, they are drawn to water just as we are.
Use your high beams whenever the road is free of oncoming traffic. This will increase your visibility and give you more time to react.
They aren’t kidding with those animal crossing signs. Observe all animal crossing signs. Again, the people who decide where and what to put on road signs do so for lots of reasons. If there’s a deer crossing sign ahead, slow down and pay extra attention to the sides of the roads. Deer, like people, tend to travel along familiar routes. These signs are placed after many collisions have occurred there or if authorities have noticed many animals in that particular area.
Don’t swerve or jam on the brakes. It can be just as startling to a driver to see a deer suddenly in the road as it is for the animal. But do not execute a panic stop. Though your instinct may be to slam on the brakes or jerk the wheel, you will be highly increasing your chances of a rollover collision. Avoid those. Instead, apply your brakes for a controlled stop, and wait for the animal to move. Chances are, if you’re going the speed limit and paying attention, you’ll be able to avoid a collision unless the roadway is completely dark and you’re only able to see what’s in your headlights. It’s pretty rare at these times for deer to be on the roads, luckily. Assume the animal won’t cross in a straight line, especially if it has been spooked. Wait and let it run across and get to safety, and again be sure to scan the sides of the road for more deer before slowly proceeding. Then take a deep breath, you just saved yourself from an expensive car insurance claim and saved the life of an animal.
Litter draws animals to the road. It is illegal to litter. Don’t do it.
Deer can become mesmerized by steady, bright lights so if you see one frozen on the road, slow down and flash your lights. Some experts recommend one long blast of the horn to scare them out of the road, as well.
If you’re on a multi-lane road, drive in the center lane to give as much space to grazing deer as possible.
And if nothing else, keep in mind car accident claims can cost you thousands of dollars if you hit an animal. In fact, the average claim was over $4,000 based on 2015 data.