Recently a Massachusetts man may have lodged the most original defense in the history of speeding tickets. He asserted in court that it was his belief was that the ticketing officer had actually clocked the speed of a passing deer and not of his car. While his approach was novel, it was evident that the judge had watched more nature specials on PBS than the driver had as he knew that the top speed of the deer was 30 mph, the speed the defendant should have been traveling.
Sharing the Road with Wildlife
As you may have guessed, despite his creative imagination and tales of sharing the road with “Superdeer,” the man’s ticket was not dismissed. While you, too, will probably never encounter a deer possessing extraordinary running abilities, you may one day share the road with a more typical one. In the US, an automobile accident involving wildlife occurs approximately every 39 minutes. These accidents can be devastating, and not just for the deer. The average costs associated with this type of crash is in the neighborhood of $2800, and around 200 drivers are killed in these accidents every year. In most of these accidents, the presence of the animal was the only uncontrollable wildcard as 84% of these crashes occur on dry roads and in good weather.
If most of your commuting is done in an urban area, your chances of such an encounter are slim, but not nonexistent. In my hometown of Fort Worth, there are many areas where urban and rural areas intersect, and you will sometimes see animals on the roadway that you would never expect to be there. It also seems that about once a year a truck transporting cattle loses its load on a stretch of one of the many major highways that crisscross our city. While cows do not technically qualify as “wildlife,” they are big and hitting one could easily result in devastating consequences.
So What Can You Do?
Just as was sharing the road with other motorists, the defensive driver must always be alert and try to anticipate and predict possible changes in the driving environment. We are all used to watching for erratic or distracted drivers, but what can be done to protect against animals? The following tips may help.
- When driving at night, be on the lookout for eyes reflecting in the dark.
- Be aware of the presence of animal crossing signs as they are probably there for a reason.
- As a surprise encounter with an animal will require more reaction time, be sure to reduce your speed in these areas.
- Realize that deer, antelope and elk often wander in groups so, if you see one, it is likely that more are in the area.
- Be especially careful if you see a moose. Perhaps because they are curious, moose will sometimes gallop around a car instead of immediately darting back into the woods.
In a situation where a collision with an animal seems imminent, do not swerve to miss it unless you are completely sure of your surroundings. Motorists sometimes collide with more substantial stationary objects or even move into a lane of oncoming traffic while attempting to avoid these collisions. In these cases, the best strategy is to brake, blow the horn and duck behind the dash. Many of these animals, especially moose, are tall enough that a collision with one of them will throw the animal into your windshield.
When driving in an area where large animals may be present, always use extreme caution. If you travel in these areas frequently, you may want to check your auto insurance as you may or may not be covered for an accident involving wildlife.