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What Should You Do If You See a Deer on the Road?

deer crossing the road - photo by Dwight Burdette

Best Way to Avoid Hitting a Deer on the Road

Slow down when you see the Deer Crossing warning sign.

If you are driving through an area known for high deer populations, you are likely to see the Deer Crossing warning sign. It alerts you to slow down and watch for wild animals crossing the road. Don’t exceed the speed limit. The lower your speed, the more time you will have to see, react and step on your brake, if a deer suddenly darts into your path.

When you drive 50 mph, your car travels about 50 feet before you react. The total stopping distance under good conditions is about 175 feet. With poor tires, poor brakes and/or poor road conditions, your stopping distance may be twice as long.

Be Especially Alert at Dawn and Dusk

Dawn and dusk are the times you are most likely to encounter deer along the roadside. These are also the times when the roadway can be damp or wet. Visibility is perhaps not as good as it is in the middle of the day. This means you will need more time to stop your vehicle.

Research shows that the highest crash peak occurs 1 hour after sunset (Hannu Haikonen, BA, Heikki Summala, PhD)

Deer Crossing Signs

W11-3 Deer Crossing Sign

Deer Crossing signs are often placed where deer are known to cross the road. Sometimes these crossing warning signs are used together with a beacon that flashes when deer movement is detected.

Your best defense against a crash, is to control your speed and stay aware, alert and avoid distractions.

If you see deer crossing signs and you’re on a road with several lanes and little traffic, avoid driving in the right lane to give as much space to grazing deer as possible.

Crashes are More Common During Fall and Spring

You can meet deer on the road at any time of the year. You are, however, more likely to see them during the deer breeding season from October through December. This is when deer-vehicle crashes are at their peak. Deer are more active and on the move.

Deer in the north breed earlier, and have shorter breeding seasons, than deer in the south.

Deer are also commonly seen by the road in the spring.

Crashes are Costly

Deer crashes - copyright:

More than 1.5 million large animal-vehicle collisions happen each year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They result in almost 200 fatalities each year. The total cost for damages nationwide exceeds $3 billion. On average, a vehicle collision with a deer will cost a driver more than $3,000 in damages.

According to State Farm, the states where you are most likely to get in a collision with a large animal like deer, moose, or elk include: West Virginia, Montana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and South Dakota. On average, one of every 41 West Virginia drivers will have an insurance claim for damage caused by a collision with a deer in 2016.

What to Do When You See a Deer While Driving

Can you answer this question?

Q: If you see a deer crossing the road, you should:

  • A. Expect more than one
  • B. Speed up as soon as the deer reaches the other side
  • C. Drive straight and flash your headlights several times

Best answer is A. Deer almost never travel alone. If you see one deer, chances are there are others nearby. Slow down, and scan the road sides. Watch for the shine of eyes along the roadside.

Continue to drive carefully and don’t speed up until you are sure the road is clear.

If there is deer on the road, flashing your high-beam headlights or honking your horn has little effect and will usually not deter deer.

Instead, your high-beam headlights could cause deer to freeze. If this happens, switch quickly to low beams.

If a Crash with a Deer is Unavoidable

If a crash with a deer becomes inevitable, it is important not to swerve carelessly around the animal. Grip the steering wheel firmly. Brake hard, but avoid locking your wheels.

If you are driving on slippery pavement and don’t have an anti-lock brake system (ABS), your vehicle can start skidding. If this happens, let go of the brake and steer in the direction of the skid (down the road). When you have control of the vehicle, try the brake again.

Remember that swerving can result in a head-on collision with oncoming vehicles or cause you to go off the roadway. Both can increase the chances of serious injuries.

As much as possible, you should try to bring your vehicle to a controlled stop or hit the deer at low speed. At the moment of an impact, it is a good idea to let off the brakes. But this is, of course, not always easy to do.

After the Crash

If you hit a deer, report it to local law enforcement or state police. Immediately call emergency services if someone is injured. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. If damages exceed the limit for filing a report with police or the DMV, make sure you do so. It helps if you make a note of the location and take photos with your phone or camera.

Read more about what to do after an accident here.

Deer crossing the road – photo by Dwight Burdette

Deer crossing sign and deer crashes illustration by

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