Leland is a man of many interests including: history, politics, religion, and, lest all study and no play make Lee a dull boy, adventure!
How to Avoid Deer at Night When Driving
According to State Farm Insurance, over one million automobile/deer collisions occurred between 2011 and 2012. Deer/car collisions add up to four billion dollars annually, driving up insurance premiums and health care expenses due to injuries incurred. Worse yet, these accidents claim over 200 lives per year.
You would think there would be more advice on how to avoid deer accidents, wouldn’t you? In my home state of Michigan, it isn’t a matter of “if” you’ve hit a deer, but rather how many. Just about everyone I know has been in an accident involving a deer. While possums, raccoons, and even squirrels present road risks, hitting a deer can total your car as well as take your life.
I've had three deer/car collisions in 34 years of driving. Upon reading that you might be asking yourself, "Is this the right person to be telling us how to not hit a deer?" Let me validate my authority on this matter by saying you should see all the deer I've nearly hit! I've had ten times as many close encounters with deer as I've had actual collisions, and may I say, I have learned well from my mistakes. I write this in hopes of the possibility that you might as well. I would further say, in my defense, that one of the accidents actually consisted of the deer running into the side of my car!
With further ado, here are some tips to help make sure you minimize the chances of a deer-related car accident.
1. Avoid Night Driving Whenever Possible
Since over 70% of deer/car collisions occur at night it makes sense to limit driving time to daylight hours whenever possible.
Regardless of who hit whom, the fact of the matter, in my case, is that all three of my deer hits happened at night.
2. Reduce Ambient Light Inside Your Vehicle at Night
Lights from your radio, speedometer, track lights, etc., cause eye fatigue and glare inside the vehicle and reduce your visibility, thus increasing the likelihood of not seeing a deer wander or leap into your lane. There should be a knob that can dim the blinker switch, wiper switch, and so on. See manufacturers instructions to find your dimmer switch.
Devices should be turned off as well. My children always enjoyed reading in the car. On vacation that meant turning on the overhead in the backseat and we all know how that light reduces our visibility on the road. My advice: turn them off. It's not worth the risk.
If a device must be on for navigation purposes, it should be dimmed to its lowest possible setting while maintaining readability.
3. Pay Attention to Warning Signage
Signs are often posted (like the one below) warning travelers of highly trafficked deer crossings. Should you see one of these, reduce your speed by 5-10 mph.
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4. Use Rest Areas!
The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, along with the American Association of State Highway Officials, established a guideline that rest areas for travelers should be found approximately every thirty minutes to “reasonably accommodate the safety rest needs of Interstate highway travelers” and to “encourage drivers to use them as a safety measure to break long periods of travel.”
While these guidelines cannot be rigidly followed most states are very good about informing travelers of how much distance there is between rest areas and exits with food and shelter.
Grab a caffeinated beverage, stretch your legs, and get back on the road. If you feel safe, take a short nap. Twenty minutes of shut-eye can rejuvenate your body and mind for the next leg of your journey.
5. Consider Glare-Reducing Glasses for Night Driving
Invest in a pair of night vision "glare reduction" glasses. These are not to be confused with the night vision goggles used by police and military forces. Glare reduction glasses simply reduce glare. True night vision goggles enhance vision in limited light situations, meaning for night vision goggles to work while driving, one would have to turn off the headlights on the vehicle—which is not only illegal, but deadly.
6. Trees/Foliage Lining Roadways Hide Deer
This is an especially dangerous situation because trees and shrubs provide cover to deer wandering into the road. In this situation, it will appear as if the deer appeared out of nowhere when, in reality, had the foliage not been hiding the animal, you may have seen it much sooner. Reduce speed when on these roads and drive with your bright lights on whenever safely possible.
7. Do Not Underestimate a Deer's Ability to Run and Jump
A white tail deer can run up to 40 mph and leap 12 feet in the air. If you see one standing beside the road, slow down immediately. They might have the classic "deer in the headlights" look, but they can turn on a dime and before you know it, the two of you have collided.
I once saw a deer running across a field toward the road where I was driving. I wasn't worried because it looked to be far enough away to pose no threat to me—plus there was a deep ditch between the field and the road. Boy, was I wrong. The deer covered the distance between us faster than I could've imagined, and with two bounding leaps it was on the road right in front of me. I narrowly missed it.
The video below captures an incident all but identical to the one I just described from my personal experience. Please watch it and become a believer.
8. Get Behind a Bigger Vehicle
Getting behind a bigger vehicle is a good idea if you are forced to drive during the evening. Semi-trucks usually drive slower, allowing you better reaction time if an animal should dart between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Semi-trucks are also less likely to sustain life-threatening damage should they hit a deer. Regardless of the size of your vehicle, the average repair bill for a deer hit is $3,000—not to mention potential loss of life and limb.
Be sure to leave three car lengths between you and the larger vehicle, and be sure to use your dim lights. Truckers tend to be friendly and not mind if you're drafting, but driving behind them with your brights on can cause glare in their side mirrors.
These are some of the tricks I've learned over the years. I hope you find them helpful. I've heard that Australia has the same problem with kangaroos that we have with deer. They've gone so far to install ramming poles called "roo bars" on the front of their vehicles. It sounds like a good idea. Hopefully safer driving techniques, like those listed in this article, will keep us safe in lieu of roo bars.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Leland Johnson