Cars and wildlife don’t share the road well. In most cases, animals lose the battle. But collisions with larger animals like deer put drivers in serious danger too. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in 150 occupant deaths, tens of thousands of injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage.
The increase in urban sprawl has led to more roads built through wildlife habitats, leading to a rise in collisions between wildlife and cars. October through December is prime deer migration and mating season and the most likely time for a serious wildlife-related accident. While accidents happen all year round, drivers need to be especially vigilant this time of the year. Read on for five ways to steer clear of animals when driving.
1. Look for the signs
Certain rural areas are marked with a deer or wildlife crossing zone to warn drivers. Keep on the lookout for these signs. Slow down and stay sharp — a split-second decision can make the difference between a scary near-miss and an accident. But don’t rely on signs exclusively. Slow down below the posted speed limit in areas where the side of the road is blocked or not visible due to curves or other obstructions. Animal-related crashes resulting in human fatalities are most commonly due to animal size and vehicle speed. You can’t control an animal’s crossing patterns, but you can control your speed.
Clusters of trees or woods by the side of the road are potential wildlife spots. Keep away from the road’s shoulder and drive closer to the middle when possible. There may be animals ready to dart onto the road. The middle lane will give you important extra reaction time if they do.
2. Know when animals are most active
The early morning and evening hours are the most active times for animals, so be extra careful during these periods. Use your high-beam headlights if no traffic is around. The high beams reflect off animal’s eyes, making it easier to see the position of deer, elk, or smaller animals like skunks and possums.
3. Know what to do if you spot a deer or other wildlife
Driving in the dark, it’s important to be alert but relaxed. If you spot an animal, slow down and blow your horn with a long blast to scare them away. If cars are approaching from behind, turn on your hazard lights to warn them. If you spot a deer crossing the road, be wary and look for other deer; they rarely travel alone.
4. Brake, but avoid swerving to dodge a collision
Many accidents start because of wildlife but end in a collision with other vehicles or trees. It’s important to keep control of your vehicle by avoiding drastic moves. Brake firmly when you notice an animal in or near your path — if there’s not a vehicle close behind you. In cases where traffic is present, a tough, moral decision is required. Is the animal large enough to cause major damage? Then brake. If the animal is smaller and there are cars following behind, hard braking endangers other drivers in order to save a small squirrel or fox.
Don’t ever swerve and try to outmaneuver wildlife. Swerving confuses the animal and interrupts their running out of the way. Swerving can also cause you to lose control of your vehicle and hit another car or tree. If you can steer out of trouble, choose to pull over to the side of the road without making a violent stop or unpredictable moves.
5. Always wear your seat belt
According to a report on animal-related crashes, most people killed in animal collisions weren’t wearing their seat belt. Wearing your seat belt at all times is a life saver since it’s impossible to predict if and when you’ll come face to face with an animal on the road.
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