The U.S. is full of deer. With an estimated 30 million of them wandering our hillsides, it’s no small wonder we experience a staggering 1.25 million deer-vehicle collisions each year. When a deer unexpectedly appears on a roadway, you have seconds to react. Here’s what you can do.

1. Know the riskiest times

Deer are most active right before and after sunrise and from sunset to midnight. If you find yourself on the road during the riskiest drive times, take extra precaution.

2.  Be aware of your surroundings

Pay attention to road signs indicating animal crossings. Scan the road and shoulders in front of you and slow at the first sign of a deer. If you see one, know that there are probably others nearby.

3.  Use your headlights

If you’re driving in the early morning or evening, turn on your headlights (use high beams if there’s no oncoming traffic). In addition to generally aiding visibility, headlights will reflect off an animal’s eyes, making them easier to spot and avoid.

4. Don’t speed

Take note of local speed limits and be sure to follow them when you’re in areas prone to wildlife. It’s easier to brake for deer when you’re maintaining a safe speed.

5. Honk

If you see a deer in your path, hit the horn. A single, long blast is recommended for scaring them off the road.

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6. Hit your brakes and stay in your lane

If you have no other option and a deer is in your path, take care not to swerve. Stay in your lane even if it means striking the deer. Swerving opens up other dangerous risks for drivers like hitting a tree, another car, or losing control of your vehicle. Brake firmly, taking your foot off the brake just before you hit the deer (this action should slightly elevate the nose of your vehicle, helping to reduce the chances of the deer hitting your windshield).

7. Pull over to safety and call the police

If you can still safely maneuver your vehicle, put your hazard lights on and pull over to a shoulder or roadside. Don’t leave the scene. Call the police to report the incident and to have them help assess the damage. Many states enforce strict penalties for fleeing the scene of an animal-auto collision.
If the deer is still alive, don’t approach it. Deer in distress can be dangerous. Keep a safe distance and wait for the authorities to arrive.

8. Document the damage

If you can do so safely, take pictures of the damage to your car, your surroundings, and the roadway itself. These may be helpful if you need to file a claim with your insurer.

Safe and smart | Car safety

about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.