It’s a beautiful day and you’re out for a drive. There’s nothing but open road and blue skies ahead, until…d’oh! A deer. And it’s standing right in the middle of the road, squarely in your car’s path. A split-second reaction is crucial to ensure the safety of the animal on the road and the passengers in your vehicle, while keeping your car intact.
Each year in the U.S. there are between 1 and 2 million collisions involving vehicles and large animals such as moose, deer and elk, according to a study from the Federal Highway Administration. These kinds of crashes almost always involve only one vehicle and typically occur on low-trafficked, straight roadways with dry surfaces.
The good news is, some of these collisions can be prevented. James Solomon, program development and training director at the National Safety Council, offers his tips on how to best handle encounters with wildlife on the road.
1. Know your environment.
Are you in the city or out in the country? Your answer will determine how large the animal you encounter might be. In urban and suburban areas, smaller animals such as dogs, cats and squirrels can sneak in front of your car. In rural areas, keep an eye out for horses and cows that could stray onto the road.
Solomon warns drivers to stay extra cautious when driving in a wooded area where trees are near the roadway — that can signal an increase in the likelihood that animals like foxes and deer could be in close proximity. Also be aware of signs for animal refuges such as petting zoos, game farms, state parks, etc., where animals are likely to roam freely. Areas with horse trails are also potential danger zones.
2. Learn how to “read the road.”
Along with staying focused on the street in front of you, the National Safety Council recommends keeping close tabs on road shoulders. There may be animals nearby that could dart into a driving lane, so stay in the middle lane when possible. Slow down below the posted speed limit in areas where your vision of the side of the road is blocked or limited.
3. Keep your poise.
If you encounter an animal on the road, do not speed up to scare it off the road. Doing so may confuse the animal and cause it to act unpredictably, especially in an unfamiliar setting like a road that’s lit up by a car’s bright headlights. “It may actually result in the animal coming through the windshield,” says Solomon.
Stay calm. “Closing your eyes or taking your hands off the steering wheel are big errors,” says Solomon. “Be prepared to steer out of trouble, preferably to the side of the road, without making a violent stop or hitting an object on the side of the road.”
4. Consider some “bells and whistles.”
Solomon says a bumper-mounted deer whistle that you can find at your local auto parts store may help reduce the chances of a collision. The frequencies of the whistle are inaudible to humans but can be heard by deer, antelope, moose, and other wildlife, warning them of a fast-approaching vehicle. Proper maintenance is important to make sure the whistle functions properly over the long term. “You must clear the whistle hole out after each car wash,” says Solomon.
The bottom line is: Stay alert. Just like many other potential road hazards, animals can be unpredictable. Defensive driving techniques like those detailed above can help you avoid an unfortunate animal encounter.
Originally published on September 22, 2015.