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NEWS | Oct. 11, 2011

A Crash Course on deer collisions

By Nathan Erb Air Force Safety Center

Deer mating season can be a dangerous time for drivers, deer and car hoods. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 1.6 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year, resulting in 200 fatalities, tens of thousands of injuries and over $3.6 billion in vehicle damage.

Being prepared can help prevent you from being part of these statistics. When driving this fall, you should:

1. Watch for the rest of the gang. Deer are pack animals and rarely travel alone. If a deer crosses in front of you, chances are there are more nearby. Slow down and keep an eye out for more deer darting across the road.

2. Timing is everything. Deer are most active at dusk and dawn, periods when your vision is most compromised. To add to their terrible timing, deer are on the move during mating season (between October and January) when you're more likely to travel after the sun sets. Slow down and stay alert, especially after dark.

3. Wear your seatbelt. It may not prevent a collision but if the inevitable happens, a seatbelt can reduce injuries. This is especially true if you lose control and collide with something bigger, and more stationary than a deer.

4. Take a moment to reflect. First, look for the road signs. The yellow diamonds with the deer on it are placed in high-traffic areas for deer. You may also spot a deer because their eyes will brightly reflect a car's headlights, making them easier to spot.

5. Stay in the center. On a multi-lane road, the center lane is your safest bet for avoiding a deer collision, as long as your local traffic laws permit it. This gives deer plenty of space; and in case your vehicle does startle them, it gives you more time to react if one darts onto the road.

6. Stay the course. If you see a deer, brake firmly and calmly and stay in your lane. Swerving could make you lose control of your vehicle and turn a bad situation much worse. Not to mention, deer are unpredictable and you could swerve directly into their changed path.

7. Honk! Some experts recommend that one long blast of the horn will scare deer out of the road. Do not rely on hood whistles or other devices designed to scare off deer -- studies have shown them to be largely ineffective at minimizing accidents.

We hope you'll never need this section.

If the above seven-step plan fails (and it happens to the best drivers), you should take the following steps in the deer collision aftermath.

1. Pull to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so.

2. Turn on your hazard lights and remain in the vehicle until you are sure it is safe.

3. Call emergency services if injuries are involved or the local police for property damage.

4. Stay away from the deer. If it is still alive, it could be confused, injured and dangerous if approached. When contacting the authorities, let them know if the deer is in a dangerous spot on the road so that it can be removed.

5. Contact your insurance provider as quickly as possible to report any damage to your vehicle.

Knowing what to do when you encounter a deer on the highway can be a life-saver.