Deer 4

How To Avoid Hitting a Deer: Best Practices & Essential Tips

There were about 50,000 incidents in Michigan in 2021 where a vehicle collided with a deer. But our home state is still behind West Virginia, Montana, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota in State Farm’s annual study on how likely drivers are to hit wildlife, like a deer. According to the study, U.S. drivers have a one in 116 chance of colliding with wildlife. This comprehensive guide will show you how to avoid hitting a deer (and what to do if you hit one).

When Are Deer Most Active?

Deer tend to be active at hours when it’s already hard to see. According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, about 80 percent of deer-related crashes happen between dusk and dawn on two-lane roads. Deer can also emerge from trees and thick foliage on the side of the road, meaning you may not see them until the last minute. As for the time of year, deer are most active between April and June and from October through December.

Although it depends on the species, most deer can sprint between 30 and 40 mph. Deer also live and travel in herds, so seeing one isn’t necessarily the same as seeing them all. 

Should You Swerve To Avoid Hitting a Deer?

No, don’t swerve if hitting a deer is imminent. Although it goes against your natural instincts, swerving rapidly can worsen the situation. You risk losing control of your vehicle and increase the likelihood of hitting oncoming traffic or running off the road.

A U.S. Department of Transportation study found no human injuries in over 95 percent of wildlife-vehicle crashes. While you may be understandably rattled, the findings show the biggest threat to your physical health in these situations is panicking and trying to avoid the animal.

If a deer leaps in front of your car, hold the wheel steady with both hands and use your brakes. Try to stay in your lane and come to a complete stop after hitting the deer. This is the safest option for those riding with you and for other vehicles in the immediate vicinity. Remember: Don’t Veer for Deer.

How To Avoid Hitting a Deer: always watch for signage as you are traveling.
How to avoid hitting a deer: always watch for signage as you are traveling.

How To Avoid Hitting a Deer: Best Tips

Keep your eyes peeled: Always watch for road signs that mark the areas most heavily-populated with deer. When driving between dawn and dusk, scan the edges of the road for any reflections that seem too small to be car or house lights. Animals have a special membrane over their eyes that makes them glow in the dark. 

Don’t rely on gimmicks: Some recommend flashing your high beams or honking the horn to scare deer away from the road. While deer can be easily frightened, these methods may have the opposite effect, causing them to run in front of your car. Instead, if you see a deer, slow down and wait for them to leave the area.

Reduce your speed: It is easier to avoid deer if you are moving at or slightly below the speed limit. If you do happen to hit a deer, the impact of the collision will be worse if you are going faster. 

Just Hit a Deer: What Should You Do?

The information above will minimize your chances of hitting a deer, but there’s no way to eliminate the risk entirely. Here are some additional tips if you do happen to collide with a deer.

Contact The Authorities

Hitting a deer usually won’t do enough damage to render your car completely motionless on the spot. Slowly pull off to the side of the road, turn on your flashers, and notify the police. If it is safe to do so, take photos with your phone of the damage to your car.

Although you may be able to pull to the side of the road okay, it’s possible your vehicle sustained other damage that would make it difficult, if not unsafe, to drive any further. After hitting a deer, calling a tow truck after the police arrive could be the best option.

Always Report The Accident

If you only graze the animal, still alert the authorities (in fact, it is illegal here in Michigan not to report these sorts of accidents, even if your vehicle only sustains minimal damage). Even if your car seems fine, pull over, report the accident, and talk to the police when they arrive.

Deer Are Not Your Responsibility

This is something you might feel conflicted about, but it’s important to understand that caring for the deer is not your responsibility. Regardless of the outcome, the burden of dealing with the animal falls to the authorities. If you wish to collect the dear, check your local and state laws regarding game permits beforehand.

Consult a Reputable Body Shop

Colliding with a deer can damage almost anything on your vehicle, meaning the final repair bill can vary significantly, especially if your airbag deploys or if there is damage to the engine’s cooling system. In most cases, hitting a deer is covered by your auto insurance.

Additional Resources

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning provides this downloadable PDF, from which many of the tips above are borrowed. If you have hit a deer and need more detailed information, see this helpful guide. That guide explains eight things you can do while waiting for the authorities to arrive.