October 1, 2004Deer Vs Car: No Winners Here by Bengt Halvorson (11/23/2003)
The cheap whistles might not help, but fences do; a new insurance-industry report reveals the need for more hard data on what really works in cutting car-deer collisions.
More deer die on the highway than at the hands of hunters. Smaller creatures of the woods and meadows are frequent victims of the rolling wheel as well.
However you feel about visiting death on wildlife with a gun, it is never a pleasant experience to run something down accidentally with a vehicle. Killing a farmer’s livestock or someone’s pet is even more traumatic. And the larger the animal involved in the collision, the more dangerous it is for you and your passengers as well. Few cars emerge recognizable when a moose is party to a highway confrontation.
Here are some ways to reduce your chances of hitting an animal:
Learn to identify high-risk situations. “Deer Crossing” signs sometimes mark sections of a road where deer are common. Watch for wooded areas with a lake or stream on one side of the road, particularly in the evening and early morning.
Notice cattle guards or signs saying “Open Range.” Livestock may be roaming freely. Keep an eye out for cars ahead of you slowing suddenly without apparent cause; near farm buildings gates may be open. Watch for those, and for breaks in fences. Drive more slowly in high-risk areas. Hang back farther than usual from any vehicles ahead of you. If they have to take avoidance actions you will have time to react.
Favor the center of the road. When traffic is light, or at night when cars have headlights and can be seen approaching from afar, drive in the center of the road. This gives you a clearer view of both verges and lessens the chance of an animal leaping unnoticed into your path. In short, you have more time to react and more room for maneuvering.
Scan your surroundings. Keep your eye roving along the edges of the road, toward the limits of your headlights and back to the edges. Avoid letting your attention become fixed on that spot where your headlights meet the darkness.
Flick from high beams to low frequently. Changing the lighted area before you does two things: it keeps you from locking onto one place to stare and it helps break the hypnotic effect lights have on animals. Sometimes animals will freeze in the middle of the road mesmerized by your on-coming headlights. Flicking your lights might break that spell.
Trust your peripheral vision. The “corners” of your eye are more sensitive to motion that straight-on vision. If you sense something moving at the side of the road, act as if something is moving. Your visual hunch might save you critical reaction time and help avoid a collision.
Understand that most beasts are social beings. If one or two deer bound across the road ahead of you watch out immediately for any following. If a cow or horse is grazing in the ditch expect others to have found a fence break and come out for dinner.
Be careful with avoidance maneuvers. Experts will tell you not to dodge small animals that run into the highway in front of you. Experts say maintain your path and if you hit the high-tailing chipmunk then so be it. The chance of your upsetting the balance of your car and risking the lives of yourself and your passengers by dodging is too great.
However, I think it’s helpful to know how to dodge because often the evasive reaction to something appearing suddenly is instinctive and not easily vetoed by thought. This is the secret: If you dodge, dodge back immediately. Steer-countersteer. Don’t wait to see if the car reacts. By then it’s too late. Act-react!
Practice dodge-dodge in a large deserted parking lot. Have someone roll a ball or toss a large doll in your path. Swerve, counter-swerve. Never mind if you hit the object. The exercise is to maintain control of your car.
When it comes to large animals avoidance is best. This could mean leaving the road for a ditch or a grove of saplings — always more bendable than a bull in the middle of a curve. Remember, avoiding something with an evasive maneuver is usually more successful than trying to stop short of it. Brakes take longer to bring a car to a stop than most people think they do.
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