What’s your normal reaction to seeing a deer in front of your vehicle while driving down the road?
If you’re like most drivers, your instinct is to swerve to avoid the deer in your headlights. Scientific research now says that isn’t the best idea.
“What kills most people is the wreck after avoiding a deer than hitting the deer,” said Sandra Jacobson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis, California. “Those things are way worse statistically than if you hit the deer.”
Why is this the case? Because you’re more likely to roll over or hit a tree while swerving to avoid the animal. You’re very likely to survive hitting the deer; less likely than going head-on into a tree, or head-over-wheels into a ditch.
The Forest Service has another suggestion that probably goes against every instinct you have when there’s a deer in the road: step on the brakes until you’re just about to hit the animal—and then release the brakes.
Hitting a deer with the brakes on means the front of the vehicle will be angled down, making a ramp to launch it into your windshield. Letting go of the brakes reduces that angle and offers a better chance for not having a deer in your lap—or worse.
Your best bet to avoid hitting a deer or other large animal crossing a road is to be aware, especially if you’re driving near a known deer crossing at dusk or dawn.
And those products for sale that are supposed to alert animals to your oncoming vehicle? Don’t waste your money.
“There were a lot of studies on deterrence, like deer whistles or reflectors, and they were shown to be ineffective. It’s better to have good situational awareness,” said Lisa Outka-Perkins, project leader at the Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center.