When deer are in your headlights

deer-crossing-road

Deer collisions increase in fall and early winter.

As the outdoor temperature gradually drops, deer activity and deer-vehicle accidents increase. Every year across the country, deer-vehicle accidents account for billions of dollars in vehicle damage, thousands of injuries and hundreds of fatalities. These tips can help you avoid a collision with a deer and stay safe while on the road.

Be aware:

  • Dawn, dusk and night are the times you are most likely to encounter deer in the roadway.
  • The annual deer breeding season, also known as the rut, occurs mainly from October through December, but also can extend into January for some southern states.
  • Deer can be very active and unpredictable at these times while they are searching for mates.
  • Use extreme caution at these times of the day and year or when you’re in a location conducive to deer activity.
  • Country roads, farmland and heavily wooded areas are known for high deer populations, but it’s also not uncommon to encounter deer in suburban or urban areas.
  • Deer are herd animals. If you see one, more deer are likely to follow.
  • Headlights won’t necessarily scare deer.  Sometimes they cause deer to stop in their tracks and on the road.
  • Don’t rely on vehicle-mounted whistles or reflectors designed to keep deer away from your vehicle. Studies show they are not effective.

Tips that can help you stay safe:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Drive at or below the speed limit when in areas with large deer populations.
  • Use high-beam headlights when it is safe to do so in order to enhance your visibility.
  • Be aware of Deer Crossing signs. These signs are strategically placed in areas frequently used by deer to cross the road.
  • Reduce speed in areas with high deer traffic, as well as situations where terrain, weather, darkness or other conditions impair your ability to see and react to deer in or near the roadway.
  • Slow down or stop if it’s safe to do so as you approach deer in the road or on the roadside.
  • Don’t swerve your vehicle to avoid hitting a deer. This could cause you to lose control and hit another vehicle or object.
  • Contact the local emergency services if anyone is injured.
  • Notify the local law enforcement agency of the accident.

If you hit a deer: 

  • Contact the local emergency services if anyone is injured.
  • Notify the local law enforcement agency of the accident.
  • Report the accident to your insurance agent or insurance company as soon as possible.
  • Never attempt to approach the deer. Deer are unpredictable wild animals. When injured, they could cause personal harm to you or run back into the roadway in front of traffic, causing another accident.

Submitted by Steve Horsley

57 thoughts on “When deer are in your headlights

    • If your grandma had been drinking, she was probably not hurt too bad. If the deer is down, too, field dress it and tag it immediately so’s the meat will not spoil, then put the deer and grandma in the bed of your pickup. On the way to the hospital, stop off at the meat locker and they can be carving up those delicious venison steaks while you are at the docs gettin’ grandma patched up. I should think that once she recovers a sixty-forty split of the venison is fair.

    • HONK LIKE CRAZY, DEER / ELK / MOOSE ALL RUN TO SAFETY. RESULT, I HAVE NEVER HAD A COLLISION WITH ANY OF THEM. And yes, do drive safely, do slow down, but combine it will very loud continuous honks and they will move off the road very quickly.

      • Umm, honking will often cause deer to run in random directions, e.g. more directly into the line of oncoming traffic.

      • I have them in my driveway all the time…honking does not work. They just get startled and run in random directions or even freeze and stare at you.

  1. Whatever you do, never attempt to approach grandmothers. Grandmothers are unpredictable and wild. When injured, they could cause personal harm to you or run back into the roadway in front of more reindeer, causing another accident or worse yet, making her more unpredictable! If the grandmother happens to be your mother-in-law, the unpredictability can be overwhelming and local law enforcement will be required to avoid further “accidents!” :-)

  2. Deer are blinded by auto headlights… that’s why they stop right in front of our vehicle. When this happens to you, if you have good physical reactions and time to do so, turn your headlights off for a few seconds and the deer will move. I have tired this; it works.

    • Eric, your reply is right on the mark. Deer are blinded and cannot see where to go to get out of the way with headlights on, especially hi-beams, and most times more than one deer crossing one by one.

      • Try slamming the gas pedal to the floor. While it might not work with a vehicle that is super quiet t does work. 85 f-250 4bbl automatic. WOT @ 60 has the carb roaring and the transmission downshifting, the sudden change noise seems to break the trance they seem to be in. Think about it, how quiet is a car when it is coming directly at you @60 mph. I must sound like wind to an animal..Add the intensity of the newer headlights. I used to drive a river bottom getting home from work @ 3am……3 times i did it and it worked 3 times.
        You would be suprised at just how quick a deer can move from a dead stop. All 3 times there was less than 2 seconds involved…see a deer @30 yards, gone with 10 yards to spare.

        • The ONE deer I did hit………sure would have been nice if it had been even 15 yards ahead of me.
          Instead,it jumped RIGHT OUT AT the edge MY RIGHT HEADLIGHT.
          Zero time to react.

    • Yes. Thank you, Eric. My dad taught me that trick when I was first learning to drive. I’ve found it works well with many critters on the road in the dark of night and has saved many little lives. Oh, I’ve also learned that possums can run like crazy!

  3. If one deer runs accross the road in front of you almost assuredly there are more deer in the edge of the woods that will follow. I have stopped and waited while as many as seven crossed in front of me. If there are two and one crosses the road while the other turns back toward the woods, the one that turns toward the woods will probably reverse and cross the road also. Slow down, perhaps even stop, because they are totally unpredicable.

  4. Speed is the big killer. The huge majority of drivers are going over the posted limits and they seldom slow down when it gets dark. We could use more speed cameras on our rural roads to discourage drivers in a hurry along with generating more income for the towns and the state. Besides, animals shouldn’t have to die agonizing deaths just because someone is in a hurry.

    • Yes. More ridiculous legislation and government involvement is always the answer. Please, let’s see how bloated we can get the already morbidly obese government.

    • No. We do not need ANY speed cameras on our roads period. They become mere revenue generators and not for safety of TAXPAYERS. We are being squeezed enough. Go back to your liberal cubbyhole wherever you are from.

      • Easily 90% of rural drivers exceed the posted limits. This is NOT acceptable. Put the cameras out and take the licenses away from narcistic repeat offenders.

  5. The most important instruction here is do not swerve to avoid the dear. If the dear is in the road and you feel you cannot stop then just buckle down and hit the dear head on.
    Less possibility of injury to you or another vehicle

  6. The statement that deer whistles don’t work is wrong. I worked in the Rockies and deer collisions dropped markedly when using them. I still use them after I retired. I agree with the other comments as slow down, watch for the next deer, and don’t swerve to avoid them. You will end up in the ditch upside down in your wrecked car. Sounds bad but hitting one deer is better than wrecking your car and getting hurt or killed in the crash.

    • Yes, Rockiesresident, they do work. I live in South Ga. where we have a high density deer population. I had a friend that owned a funeral home and lived out in the country from town. He damaged his car 5 times over the period of a year hitting deer at night. He eventually had to buy a new car. When he did, he installed four of the whistles in the front grill of his car and from then on, never had another incident. We have had several incidents of people getting killed when hitting deer in the past 10 to 15 years. Most occurred when the deer came over the hood, through the windshield and into the passenger compartment. The fatal injuries were caused by flailing hoofs of the deer.

  7. Get into the practice of toggling your horn (beep-beep-beep-beep-beep,etc.) as fast as you can cycle it, along with letting off the gas, as your first reaction. It almost always makes them bolt back to the direction they came from. We live between a conservatory and a campground, so we encounter deer just about every evening.

  8. deer whistles work ..at least here in wisconsin…deer freeze when they hear my whistles..I’ve seen them stop at turn back…

  9. I once bought a deer whistle and mistakenly installed it backwards. As soon as I hit the road I had hundreds of deer chasing my car.

  10. Dear is usually referred to when speaking to your wife. Deer on the other hand is a deer.
    Both have one thing in common . Unpredictable. No matter which way you turn your usually
    Wrong.

  11. You don’t drive with your headlights on bright. It blinds the deer. They stop or wildly run blinded. It also blinds people in the road. Get the road, let a vehicle come at you with his head lights on bright. You can’t see nothing. Gee, that was hard to figure out~~!

  12. Each situation has to be evaluated in a split second. Thursday night my husband was traveling a 2 lane road at the posted speed limit of sixty five at dusk. As he came down a hill there stood 3 deer. In the other lane coming toward him were 3 cars. He applied his brakes and turned for the ditch. When his truck came to the edge of the pavement it did indeed roll onto its top. After opening the window on the driver’s side he braced himself, unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out. He does not have one scratch. Had he hit the deer they assuredly would have caused the oncoming cars to wreck. Goodness knows how many would have come through his windshield. We’ve had a friend decapitated from hitting a deer when it came through the windshield. A local woman hit an elk, it came through the windshield and it’s antlers went through her and pinned her to the seat. Although she did survive. We realize that he was watched over and if it is your time to go, you are going. But to say “don’t swerve” across the board isn’t correct either.

  13. I’m enjoying the good humor here. The real solution is to train the deer to cross only at “Deer Crossing” signs.

  14. sometimes the whistles work..ive used them and still hit deer..when deer go into rut they have one thing on their mind…

  15. What we need are: hundreds and thousands and millions of local conversations, meetings, letters, phone calls and ACTION oriented plans – to encourage ourselves, our clear-thinkers, our do-gooders, our decision makers, our environmentalists, our local DNRs ETC to understand that this is actually a SERIOUS PROBLEM that needs IMMEDIATE attention. Everybody !! LET’S ROLL !!!!! Gramma

  16. What we need are: hundreds and thousands and millions of local HUNTERS! Hunters that are armed with rifles who can and WANT TO hunt the deer for sport and for food. And no- we do not need another government program to “help” the situation…

  17. All is fine and dandy, but hunters can fix this problem. Legislate to allow bow hunting from the roadside. I would not take deer meat from a vehicle hit, there are too many chemicals that are released into the meat when the animal is in shock.

  18. I got one of those new fangled “super deer whistles”.. s’posed to stop a whole herd from crossin in front of you… well, I drove to town after the installashun and settin it “on”.. pulled up to a traffic light and stopped on the red (I always stop on the red one like I should)… anyhoo, there was a bunch of folks awaitin to cross the street.. they all got bout halfway and stopped, puttin their hands over their ears and screamin and hollerin… then they all ran back to the corner..I just laffed and laffed… and popped open another Buttewiper Light..

  19. Guys it’s not that hard

    1. Drive with your high beams on. To those saying “but it blinds the deer and they freeze!”. The point of headlights isn’t to move objects out of your way, the point of headlights is that you can see objects sooner and can slow down (or honk if you’re impatient and don’t want to stop and don’t care about waking up people sleeping nearby).

    2. Don’t speed at night in areas where deer frequent. You know that soybean field on the side of the road? Yeah, deer like soybeans. Slow down when you’re near it.

    3. Even if the deer is just standing still, don’t try to drive around it. Deer aren’t always the brightest animals, they may take off running at the last second…and run right into your car. I’ve had deer run into friends’ trucks on multiple occasions. One of them was actually stopped at a stop light and a deer ran out of the woods right into his door.

    I’ve yet to hit a deer in years of driving, and I live in an area with very high deer population. It’s not uncommon to see two dozen deer in a mile stretch late at night (lots of corn and soybean fields).

    Unfortunately they all disappear during hunting hours :(

  20. Having driven truck for several years, I can tell ya deer whistles really don’t work all that well. However, if you believe in them, then you will have to put one on your airplane. Remember, reindeer also fly.

  21. I would think that sooner or later deer that aren’t smart enough to avoid a car would all be dead and couldn’t reproduce. Rattlesnakes have learned not to rattle before they strike. The ones that rattled were killed leaving the ones that did not, to reproduce. Every has hit a rabbit, right?
    Where i live there are rabbits everywhere and you couldn’t hit them if you tried.Rabbits aren’t smart, it’s a genetic thing. The ones with the “get hit by a car” gene all died and didn’t reproduce.

  22. Flashing your lights at a blinded deer is pretty useless. We live in an area where we often encounter deer on or along side the road. The most effective thing, I think, is to honk your horn repeatedly. They run away from the sound. Of course, there is a chance that they’ll bolt into your path, but that is rare. The deer I fear are NOT the ones I see…it’s those who bound out directly into your path or even into the side of the vehicle. (Can you guess that we have made some body repair shops very happy?)

  23. We live in South Stevens County in Washington that has a huge deer population & we asked for deer warning signs from the county but they claim its a waste of time – so why do they make & post them Mr. Whitebread ? Personally I think they don’t have money left after supporting the “Meth Head’s” & freeloaders in the North County & Colville. $$$$

  24. I’ve hit several deer and had as many run into the sides of my trucks. One thing we learned early on was that in smaller vehicles, braking to avoid hitting a deer isn’t always a good option. If you know it’s unavoidable, best thing is just to good ahead and hit the deer. Braking causes the front end of the vehicle to drop and more then once the car has gone underneath the body of the deer resulting in the deer to come through the windshield.

  25. I live in a very high deer populated area and I ALWAYS drive below posted speed limit and the deer around here are out at any given time. For the person said they need more deer signs. I’ve never seen a deer stop and read signs. I drive with headlights on high beam until I meet a car then if I see a deer standing near the road, I slow down and HOPE they don’t decide to bolt out in front of me. I’ve hit 4 deer since I’ve been driving and I’m 51 now. I hit 1 deer less than a month after I bought my car, a little over $2,000 damage. Year later, same location same road, same month, BAM another deer. I tell the police when I call after hitting a deer, well I pay taxes on the road, the deer didn’t. My last deer was about 2yrs ago around Thanksgiving. I was going down the road and meeting a car, the deer jumped across the road in front of the other car and landed in the center lane, then jumped again and I just closed my eyes as the deer was in flight and BAM, over $4,000 damage to my van.

    • I did not say deer could read signs (Mr. Sarcastic) if your referring to my post I’m 20 years older than you & have hit NO deer , you apparently are a deer magnet & need advice from the deer to avoid them . Perhaps you should read deer warning signs ! LOL

  26. I hit one at 10AM in November. It came flying over the windshield, flew off of the hood and I then ran over it… What a mess!

  27. Had five deer in the yard. Watched them walk into the street, turn left AND THEN STOPPED AT THE STOP SIGN BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER! Maybe they can read signs after all. I can tell you this; the deer read that stop sign better than the Little League mom’s racing thru the subdivision to drop off/pick up their ballplayers.

    • Amen to that ,soccer mom’s are some of the worst drivers out there ! They speed, they text, they run stop signs & appear distracted from even realizing their driving !

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