It’s become cliché to describe anyone who is stunned or paralyzed by confusion as being “like a deer in the headlights.” And we laugh at the visual: Someone standing wide-eyed and motionless, mouth open, not enough sense to get the heck out of the way...
But the truth is deer really do freeze when they get caught in our headlights, and the result is anything but funny. For the deer or the driver.
I bring this up because according to an article on FleetOwner.com this is deer-in-the-headlight season. Apparently during the last three months of each year, the number of deer-related traffic accidents rise dramatically. Why so many during this time? Not because they are out doing last minute holiday shopping and are distracted... it’s because late October through early December is deer mating season. And they are running around trying to find mates, making them more active and more likely to run across highways.
The article mentions statistics that show vehicle collisions with deer are higher in the last three months of the year than in the other nine months combined. Matt Tholen of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says:
"The does are running around and the males are focused on finding female deer. This time of year, the deer are moving a lot more because of weather patterns, too. In the next couple of weeks it's going to be prime time for deer-involved crashes."
It seems like Tholen is right. FleetOwner says that some states are reporting higher than usual deer vs. vehicle crashes this year. The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports the number of motor vehicle crashes involving deer are on the rise in their state. In the month of October alone, there were 69 reported.
And hitting a deer is no minor incident. Sometimes the results can be more than fender damage and a cracked windshield. They can be tragic. According to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse (and the fact that there is a Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse should tell you something), deer-vehicle crashes (DVCs) in the US are a “significant and increasing transportation safety problem.”
How significant? The article points to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistic that reports there are about 1.5 million vehicle accidents with deer each year that kill more 200 Americans and result in more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. That’s enough to keep anyone’s eyes peeled for deer.
So what can you do to prevent a deer from becoming a hood ornament on your rig? State Farm has a list of precautions drivers should take in order to avoid a deer-induced accident. They suggest that drivers:
- Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These signs are placed in known active deer crossing areas.
- Be aware that deer are most active during the evening, between 6 and 9 p.m. At night, use high-beam headlamps as much as possible to illuminate the sides of the road where deer can linger.
- Be aware that deer often move in packs — if you see one deer, there is a good chance several more are just a few yards behind.
- Do not rely on vehicle-mounted "deer whistles." Studies have shown deer are not affected by this deterrence method.
- If a collision with a deer seems inevitable, it may be best not to swerve. The risk of personal injury is greatly increased by swerving, which can place you in the path of oncoming vehicles or may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Where are you most likely to encounter a love-lorn deer crossing the road and need these tips? According to a list State Farm compiles each year West Virginia is the top DVC state for the fifth year in a row. (Either there are a lot of confused deer there, or incredibly distracted drivers on those roads, or both.) Rounding out last year’s Top 10 are Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming. So if your travels take you through any of those states this month, make sure to stay extra alert. A “deer in the headlights” look may be truly funny when your friend doesn’t get a joke, but an actual deer in your headlights isn't laughable at all.