Encountering wildlife out of nowhere while driving on the road can be dangerous and scary. Animals often find their way from the woods out onto highways and residential streets, placing them in the path of moving vehicles. Even though wildlife are more active at certain times of the year, they can be a hazard on the roadways year-round. So what can you do to stay safe and avoid a collision? These tips can help.
- Slow Down: The most important way to avoid collisions with wildlife is to slow down and observe the speed limit. Give yourself more time to brake if an animal darts in your path, especially if you are driving in areas with high deer populations. Pay attention to those wildlife crossing signs! They’re posted in areas known for being active for wildlife encounters.
- Use Your Eyes: Don’t rely on hood whistles and other devices to scare away deer. The most effective way to avoid a collision is keep your eyes on the road. At night, look for glowing eyes (“eye-shine”) of animals in the distance. Enlist your passengers to help you watch for wildlife on or near the road as well. Four eyes are better than two.
- Be Mindful of Peak Areas and Times: Be on your highest alert at dusk and dawn, when many animals are most active. Deer are most active between 6 and 9 pm — a time when most drivers find it difficult to see. We also tend to be most sleepy and less alert behind the wheel during this time. Also note times of year: Early fall is usually mating season for animals, such as moose, and they are tracking scents. Deer are most active during their breeding season in the fall from October to early January. Springtime is when most wildlife families with their young are on the move as well.
- Don’t Tailgate: Keep a safe distance between you and the car in front of you to avoid any unnecessary accidents. If that driver brakes suddenly for an animal in the road, you won’t be able to react in enough time.
- Use Your Brights: Your high-beam lights are there for a reason, don’t be afraid to use them. Brighter lights will increase your visibility. Just be courteous and be sure to turn them off when an oncoming car is traveling within 500 feet of you.
- Remember: Deer Travel in Herds: When you spot one deer crossing the road, another is likely to be right behind. Slow down and watch for others that may be tagging along.
- Use the Center Lane: If driving on a multi-lane highway, use the center lane whenever possible to give a wide berth to grazing deer along roadways.
- Use Your Horn: If an animal is standing on or near the road, try flashing your lights or honking in a series of short bursts to encourage the animal to leave the area before you proceed. Deer often get mesmerize by the steady lights of cars and freeze along roadsides. Give them a flash or honk to scare them out of the way. This will also help to alert other drivers to slow down or stop.
- Wear Your Seat Belt: This might seem like a no-brainer but it’s worth repeating. Severe injuries caused by deer-vehicle collisions can usually be avoided by wearing your seat belt.
- Stay in Control: If a collision is unavoidable, remain calm and do your best to keep control of the car. Swerving out of the way of wildlife can usually make things worse, causing you to lose control or possibly collide with another oncoming vehicle. Colliding with a tree or other vehicle causes more injuries than hitting an animal. Do all you can to lessen the impact by pressing on the brakes firmly and at the moment of impact letting off of them. Braking on impact can cause the hood of your vehicle to dip down and push the animal through the windshield. While staying in your lane is generally the safest option, if you suddenly encounter a large animal, such as an adult moose, you may want to swerve as long as it is safe to do so and you have control of the car.
- Lean Towards the Door: If you do hit a large animal, lean towards the door frame and not the center of the car. When animals are hit head-on they tend to roll over the vehicle, crushing the center of the windshield and roof.
If you do happen to collide with an animal, remember to never touch or help an animal in the roadway. Pull off the roadway and immediately call the police and be sure to get a police report. Many insurance companies may not pay for damages without a police report.
Be sure to share these tips with the young drivers in your life. Reports indicate that young adults (ages 15-24) have the highest rate of car accidents involving large animals than any other age group.