When Bumpers Meet Antlers

When Bumpers Meet Antlers

Big, brown, furry beasts sometimes emerge from the wilderness to cross a public road. Unfortunately, no one taught them to look both ways first.

Too often, the result is a motorist's nightmare: a collision with a deer, moose or elk. The animal usually comes out second-best in this type of close encounter, but the toll on vehicles and their occupants can also be substantial.

Each year, about 700,000 animal-vehicle collisions cause about $1.2 billion in damage, the Insurance Information Institute estimates. And about 120 people die and another 10,000 are injured annually in such crashes, the National Safety Council says.

When a deer--or, in some northern states and Canada, a moose or elk--meets up with a moving vehicle, there's typically about $2,000 worth of property damage, though it can exceed $10,000. Deer usually cause damage to the front bumper, grille, headlamps, hood and fender areas; sometimes the windshield is broken and air bags deploy. A moose, being larger, usually breaks the windshield and may crush the roof.

While animal-vehicle collisions can happen any time of year, fall is the peak season for deer-car accidents (and a peak time--along with mid-May through July--for moose-car wrecks as well). That's mainly because autumn is both mating season and hunting season, so deer are more active and more likely to roam beyond their normal territory.

No foolproof way has been found to keep deer, moose and elk off highways and away from vehicles. Deer whistles have their advocates; some motorists insist the devices have helped them avoid collisions. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says there's no scientific evidence to support claims they prevent deer from approaching cars or reduce crash risk. Perhaps a more promising approach is roadside reflectors, designed to reflect light from vehicle headlamps and cause deer to "freeze" rather than cross the road. Studies and field tests suggest they do reduce crash frequency to some extent.

You can avoid an unplanned meeting with a deer, moose or elk. Here's how:
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to "deer crossing" signs. Look well down the road and far off to each side. At night, use your high-beam lights if possible to illuminate the road's edges. Be especially watchful in areas near woods and water. If you see one deer, there may be several others nearby.
  • Be particularly alert at dusk and dawn, when these animals venture out to feed.
  • If you see a deer, moose or elk on or near the roadway and think you have time to avoid hitting it, reduce your speed, tap your brakes to warn other drivers, and sound your horn. Deer tend to fixate on headlights, so flashing them may cause the animal to move. If there's no vehicle close behind you, brake hard.
  • If a collision seems inevitable, don't swerve to avoid the animal; your risk of injury may be greater if you do. Hit it, but control the vehicle. Report the accident to the police.
  • Always obey the speed limit and wear safety belts.