It’s Crunch Time Again…So Watch Out!

Last night I was driving home late when all of a sudden a deer jumped out in front of the small compact car I happened to be navigating.   Instinctively, I locked the brakes and quickly steered left…and then slowly steered back right again to just barely avoid missing the hind hooves as the deer ran off into the ditch.

It was a close call…but I dare say that over the years I’ve had several even closer calls and been lucky then, too.   Only once in over 27 years of driving have I hit a deer with a vehicle…and technically, that deer hit me…but more on that a bit later.   This time both the deer and I left the scene unscathed…even though I’m sure it took a minute or two for both of our heart rates to settle back down to a normal pace as a result of the near miss.

In case you didn’t know it, we are now heading into one of the critical time periods of the year for deer mortality, particularly for whitetail does.   In the spring when does prepare for the birthing activity they tend to disperse and find areas of more seclusion – so, what this means for drivers is the deer are on the move because of this general restlessness.   And whenever deer are on the move it can spell big trouble for motorists if they’re not aware.

There’s a great web site on vehicle/deer collisions called www.DeerCrash.com.   Essentially this site is a consortium of several Midwestern states and the efforts underway by their Transportation Departments to reduce property damage accidents as a result of deer on the highways.   Here you will find information on how states are sharing information from roadway design to how to most effectively use signage to alert motorists.   In a nutshell, the stats on car/deer accidents are staggering.   Nationally over 300 people die each year as a result of these crashes.

(As an aside, please refer to my blog of November 21, 2004, where I described a car accident I responded to where two people died in a fiery crash as a result of a deer collision)

So, did I do the right thing last night when I was driving by steering to avoid the deer?   Well, according to the Insurance Information Institute I did right be braking firmly…but I was wrong in steering to avoid any collision.   In most cases I would have to agree with that assessment, but had I not veered quickly the accident WOULD have occurred.   The problem is when you steer quickly at high speeds (or even braking speeds) you can quickly lose control of your car which can cause even more problems.

Maneuvering so your car ends up in the ditch is hardly ever a good option…and worse is losing control so you end up careening into oncoming traffic.   Most experts agree that a motorist is better off simply hitting the deer and dealing with the consequences than trying to avoid that fate by taking aggressive driving actions.

I might also recommend that if you have never taken a defensive driving course it would be wise to find one in your area.   No matter how experienced a driver you think you are…you will learn plenty at one of these courses to increase your ability to avoid a bad situation.   I took a course several years back (as part of my ambulance driver training) and it was so intense that I am confident that the skills learned back then will stick with me for most of my remaining driving career.

Six years ago, however, I was driving and not quite so lucky.   My speed was about 30mph as I was in a residential area of a small city.   I had more reason to expect a kid darting out from playing in a yard or a dog wandering off the sidewalk, than I did a deer…but it happened.   I was driving my late model Mustang when suddenly this whitetail buck darted out and ran smack into my driver’s side door.   The antler actually took a small chip out of my side window only inches from my head.   Yes, it startled me.   I immediately looked in the mirror and the deer was lying on the road…but then slowly it staggered to its feet…and pranced off shaking some of the cobwebs out of its head.   I now had a damaged window and a dented car door that needed replacing.   In this case there was no amount of maneuvering that could have avoided this particular accident.

And so my point is deer accidents will happen…and realize they can happen at any time of the year, too.   But during the late spring and the fall seasons is when they tend to peak…so it pays to be safe and be extra aware at these times.   It also makes good sense to review how you SHOULD react in a split second when faced with an incident that could require a life or death decision.

© 2005 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.