Wildlife on the Road

To swerve, or not to swerve: That is the question. Before leaping to an answer, consider these statistics:

  • A collision with some form of wildlife occurs, on average, every 39 minutes.
  • 1 out of every 17 car collisions involves wandering wildlife.
  • 89% of all wildlife collisions occur on roads with 2 lanes.
  • 84% of all wildlife collisions occur in good weather on dry roads.
  • The average repair cost of a car-deer collision is $2,800.
  • Approximately 200 motorists die in the United States each year from car-wildlife collisions.

Ouch, huh?

Ouch, indeed.

To avoid adding to these statistics, trim your chances of colliding with traversing wildlife by practicing the following precautions:

  • Slow down when passing yellow animal-crossing signs. These warnings are posted not because road crews just happened to have a surplus of signs, but because heavy animal traffic frequents the area.
  • Wildlife is most active during dusk, dawn, and night. Deer are most frequently hit during dusk and dawn, bears and moose at night.
  • Headlights have an illumination range of 200 to 250 feet. To allow for sufficient brake time, reduce your speed to 45 mph at night―or even down to 30 mph when roads are icy.
  • Pay attention to shoulders. Even though wildlife may be off to the side as your car approaches, animals may suddenly attempt to flee by inexplicably leaping into the road. (Jackrabbits are particularly suicidal.) Slow as you approach, and don't hesitate to hit the horn.
  • Look for reflecting eyes.
  • Slow if you spy a moose. These gangly animals harbor a weird escape gene. Instead of leaping into forested cover, moose will gallop down the road ahead of you for long distances before finally veering into the woods.
  • Keep in mind that deer, elk, and antelope wander in groups. If you see one crossing, slow to a crawl. More are bound to follow.
  • If you drive in a state or province that employs road salt, keep in mind that wildlife embraces it as a condiment. Roads may be drier but wildlife more numerous.
  • Deer whistles are merely peace-of-mind placebos. Research remains inconclusive as to the advantages of these car-mounted devices.

Now, finally, to answer the swerve-or-not-to-swerve dilemma, experts advise not swerving. You can suffer more ghastly consequences from an oncoming UPS delivery truck than from a leaping mule deer or skittering antelope. It is best to lock the brakes, jam the horn, and (if time allows) duck low behind the dashboard.

Moose are the lone exception to the do-not-swerve rule. An adult moose can grow to 1,600 pounds. Consequently, colliding with a moose is comparable to colliding with a compact vehicle on stilts, with the likelihood of fatal or long-term injuries to the front-seat occupants of your car. So if the situation allows, swerving for a moose is a defensive option.

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