A commuter on her way to work sees a white-tailed deer doe bound across the highway several hundred yards in front of her. Captivated by the animal's beauty, she watches it disappear into the forest.
Returning her gaze to the highway, she is astonished to see a mature buck deer in her headlights. She swerves to avoid the animal, a dangerous maneuver.
This scenario has several possible outcomes. If the unwary motorist is lucky, she will miss the deer without losing control of her vehicle. However, for nearly half a million Americans each year, such encounters end in accidents.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average property damage from a deer-vehicle accident nationally is near $2,000. Ten thousand people are injured each year, and 100 people die in such accidents.
Deer-vehicle accidents can happen any time of year, but the National Safety Council says they are most likely to occur in October, November or December.
The reason is "the rut," the time of year when deer mating occurs.
During this period, deer are restless. Bucks may be active 24 hours a day, constantly on the move in search of receptive females. This pursuit keeps does on the move, too, increasing the frequency of deer crossing roads.
During the rut, deer focus so intently on the opposite sex, they sometimes disregard dangers that would make them stop, look and listen at other times of the year.
That's why it's important for motorists to be extra alert this time of year.
Some patterns of deer behavior help motorists avoid accidents. Deer are more likely to be out and about between dusk and dawn. Commuters who must drive early and late in the day should be aware of the heightened danger.
Deer often travel in groups. Seeing one deer should serve as a warning that more may be nearby. If you see a deer, slow down immediately in case others appear. Deer-vehicle accidents are more likely where roads pass through natural travel corridors, such as streams or wooded valleys.
The Institute offers the following suggestions to reduce the risk of deer-related accidents:
l Use high-beam headlights, which reflect in deer eyes, making them easier to see.
l Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.
l Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path. Do not swerve. This can confuse the deer about where to run. It can also cause you to lose control and hit a tree or another car.
l Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in deer-vehicle crashes are not wearing seat belts.
l If you strike a deer with your car, get your vehicle off the road, and call the police. Don't approach an injured animal. It could hurt you.