Drivers Fact Sheets

Avoiding Accidents Involving Deer

With six main species of deer living wild in Britain with a combined population of over 1.5 million head, it is not surprising there has, in recent years, been a growth in the number of reports of accidents involving deer on the road network in England.

It is astonishing that every year between 42,000 and 74,000 of these deer are killed in collisions on Britain’s roads. Sometimes, the fatalities include some car occupants, injure hundreds and cause around £11 million of damage to vehicles.

Such deer related traffic accidents have a considerable impact:

  1. They present one of the main causes of mortality among wild populations of deer.
  2. They pose a major animal welfare issue, because a high proportion of deer which are hit by cars are not killed outright: many have to be put down at the roadside, while others escape to die later of their injuries.
  3. They pose a safety hazard to road users, and lead to substantial damage to cars and numerous human injuries as well as a number of human fatalities in most years.

The two peaks periods for deer accidents are May along with October through to December. It helps if drivers can take the trouble understand deer and think about how they can change their driving to avoid them and to understand what to do if they do hit and injure one.

It is easier said than done to say that drivers should hit a deer rather than swerve or brake suddenly endangering themselves or other road users. It is not actually so easy to do this as the immediate human reaction is to avoid a collision, and it takes great self control to head for the deer instead. Also it is not always easy to show that a car embedded or upside down in a ditch, is there as the result of a successful avoidance of a deer, rather than as the result of bad driving.

Any liability is the driver’s. The deer, together with any proof it was there, have long left the scene.

To summarise here are the ten safety tips to avoid an accident.

  1. Understand deer.
  2.  Deer accidents peak in May, October and November.
  3.  Sunset to midnight and around sunrise are the worst times.
  4.  Some areas have bigger problems than others, concentrate more if you are in one.
  5.  The “deer” or “wild animal” sign is there for a reason – and means “deer accidents happen near here”.
  6. Change the way you drive.
  7. Remember that however well you can read the road and however far you can see there is no traffic, a deer can appear almost instantly. Nature makes them hard to see.
  8. Use full beam headlamps when it is dark – unless of course you are about to dazzle another driver. Dip your headlights if you see a deer, otherwise it may “freeze” in your path.
  9. Though your instinct will be to swerve or brake hard to try to avoid a deer if one appears suddenly in your path, it will generally be safer to continue on your normal track – sudden manoeuvres can result in a loss of control increasing the risk of hitting a tree or another vehicle for example and causing serious injury to you and your passengers. Be aware that further deer may well cross after the ones you have noticed.
  10. If the worst happens make sure that you stop somewhere safe, and if you cannot, do your best to ensure that your accident isn’t hit by other vehicles. Report the accident to the police (who should be able to contact someone who can assist an injured deer)

A Final Warning

If you swerve to miss the deer (or any other animal), but hit something else, remember it will be very hard to prove that the deer ever existed.

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