When people get ready to walk across a public road, they usually look both ways first to see if any motor vehicles are coming. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with animals, including certain large ones.
Too often, the result is a motorist's nightmare: A collision with a deer, moose or elk. The animal usually comes out second-best in this type of close encounter, but the toll on vehicles and their occupants can also be substantial.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 150 people die in animal-vehicle collisions each year. The Insurance Information Institute estimates some 1.5 million collisions cause about more than $1 billion in damage annually.
While animal-vehicle collisions can happen any time of year, fall is the peak season for deer-car crashes. That's mainly because autumn is both mating and hunting seasons, so deer are more active and more likely to roam beyond their normal territory.
No foolproof way has been found to keep deer, moose and elk off highways and away from vehicles. Deer whistles have their advocates, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there's no scientific evidence to support claims they have work as intended. Some studies suggest roadside reflectors -- designed to reflect light from vehicle headlamps and cause deer to "freeze" rather than cross the road -- reducing crash frequency to some extent.
There are ways you can lessen an unplanned meeting with a deer, moose or elk. Here's how:
* Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to "deer crossing" signs. Look well down the road and far off to each side. At night, use your high beams if possible to illuminate the road's edges. Be especially watchful in areas near woods and water. If you see one deer, there may be several others nearby,
* Be particularly alert at dusk and dawn, when these animals venture out to feed,
* If you see a deer, moose or elk on or near the roadway and think you have time to avoid hitting it, reduce your speed, tap your brakes to warn other drivers and sound your horn. Deer tend to fixate on headlights, so flashing them may cause the animal to move. If there's no vehicle close behind you, brake hard,
* If a collision seems inevitable, don't swerve to avoid the animal. Your risk of injury may be greater if you do. Hit it, but control the vehicle. Report the crash to the police, and
* Always obey the speed limit and wear safety belts.
Being alert at all times while driving is your best defense against any type of accident.