Slow down, pay attention

Published 9:22 pm Monday, November 7, 2011

An awful thud punctuates the squeal of tires, and then the two-lane country road goes dark, as the headlights that illuminated it moments ago have now been shattered. With fluid now pouring from a punctured radiator and much of the front of the car now mangled, the vehicle is going nowhere without a tow truck. Sickeningly, from a dark ditch nearby, comes the sound of a dying creature, the deer that darted in front of the car just moments ago.

The scene is repeated scores of times in Suffolk every fall, when deer are more active near the city’s roads than at any other time of year. Sometimes, the collisions between vehicles and deer cause only minor damage to the vehicles. Sometimes, they’re far more devastating, totaling vehicles and injuring or even killing their drivers. For the deer, such collisions are almost always deadly.

Statistics show that November is the busiest month of the year for such collisions, with October and December coming in second and third place, respectively. During this time of year, deer are most likely to be seen at dawn or dusk close to tree-lined roadways and areas that shift from open fields to forest or water.

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Wildlife experts say the deer are more active, because they have to go farther this time of year to look for food and because it is mating season. This, combined with the fact that they’re deer and therefore unaware of the danger that lurks along every ribbon of asphalt they run across, means that they’re especially unpredictable and, therefore, especially dangerous to drivers.

Experts offer the following suggestions:

  • Slow down whenever you see a deer along the side of the road, and be aware that if you see one deer cross the road, others are probably nearby.
  • Use your high-beam headlights whenever possible, and keep an eye out for deer coming out of the woods alongside the road.
  • Pay special attention during high-risk times and in high-risk places.
  • If a deer runs in front of you, don’t swerve. Instead, apply the brakes firmly, but keep the vehicle moving straight ahead. Better to hit the deer than to run off the road and into a tree.
  • If you hit a deer, make sure everyone in the car is OK, and then call 911 to report the accident. Do not approach an injured deer, as it could cause you serious injury while thrashing or trying to protect itself.

Deer are unpredictable enough that even the most careful driver could someday find himself on the side of a country road one night, vehicle smashed and a deer dying nearby. But slowing down and paying careful attention, especially at night, can help reduce your chances of a close and deadly encounter with one of Suffolk’s woodland creatures.