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Car Collision with a Deer--Lessons Learned

Original post made by Paul Losch, Community Center, on Oct 14, 2007

I was driving in rural Washington State this past Friday at dawn, and struck and killed a deer that jumped in front of me as I was driving around 65-70MPH on a state highway. The deer died instantly, the car was heavily damaged, but reparable, and noone in the car was hurt at all, thank heaven.

It all happened so quickly, much of the experience is a blur. But, I do think a couple of things I did and did not do probably avoided any of us in the car getting hurt or killed. I have talked with some safety and insurance people as part of my de-brief, and they concur that given the circumstances, I did the right thing.

Specifically, I did not swerve or try to avoid the collision. I gripped the wheel, held the course, braked and let things happen. Had I tried steering out of the way to avoid hitting the deer, I likely would still have hit it, but going a fast speed, albeit the posted limit, there was a risk of rolling the car and since it was a narrow road, the car could have careened a number of yards into the ditch and ravine off the road.

I am not happy about what happened, and it is one of those experiences where in hndsight one could ask, could I have avoided the incident driving a bit slower, brights on, not off, driving a different time of day, etc, etc. Will never know, the deer just appeared out of nowhere. But, by the same token, things could have been much worse, even tragically so, even with some differences in how I was driving.

Today's cars are designed to abosrb the impact of a collision and keep the people inside the car as safe as possible. In this case, the car did what it was designed to do. I pass this along as food for thought for people who find themselves driving in areas where deer and other large animals are present. As awful an experience as it was to hit and kill this animal, I am hugely relieved that I handled the car the way I did, and as a result, nobody in my family that was driving with me was hurt or killed.

Comments (13)

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2007 at 1:02 pm

Paul,

Sorry to hear about your travails. You did everything right, except one thing: You braked. At high speeds that big rig behind you might not have seen the deer jump out in front of you. The correct thing to do is to drive straight through the animal, then slowly come to a stop.

The "I Brake for Animals" bumper sticker is fine for city driving (to avoid squirrels and cats) but it can get you killed at high speeds.

Glad you survived. I enjoy your posts!


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Posted by Hills driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Paul sorry about your accident; it is a good lesson for anyone driving up into the hills, which isn't very far away. As a former resident of Los Altos Hills I can tell you I've had some very near misses with deer.


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Posted by joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 14, 2007 at 5:00 pm

I don't understand this. It seems to me that if a driver hits a deer, he or she could just as easily hit a child running into the road. Plus cars are supposed to be far enough apart to stop safely when the car ahead's brake lights go on. Just a case of unsafe driving.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2007 at 5:11 pm

joe,

When a deer jumps in front of your car, at 65-70 mph, from the brush, it is impossible to stop. Children don't just jump out of the brush (unless they are raised by by a doe). Cars SHOULD be able to stop, when they see the brake lights, but big rigs need a logical warning. Yet, many cars are not all that quick to respond - that is why rear enders happen all the time. Does this help you to understand?


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Posted by Hills driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2007 at 9:07 am

Joe, if you're driving on the rural narrow streets up in the hills at night you are probably the only car on the road, you are not following behind other vehicles, it is dark, there are no street lamps.

After dark there probably aren't small children playing on the street, but there are deer and they jump out across the road, and sadly they do get hit.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2007 at 9:12 am

If you are driving on the rural narrow streets up in the hills at night at 65 70 mph, then you are driving much too fast. We followed a car that went up the cliff at the side of the road and got totalled this summer. He was lucky, he could have gone over the other side where the road fell down a cliff which would have probably meant that he couldn't walk away as he did. Just because there is no traffic on these roads, doesn't mean you can travel fast.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2007 at 9:14 am

I should have said that we pulled over to let a car pass and within a couple of bends found him up the cliff. We were not going anywhere near the speed he was.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 15, 2007 at 10:17 am

Just to be clear, I agree that driving even 45-50 MPH in the hills west of Palo Alto is way too fast.

We were on a flat state highway in eastern Washington state, with a posted speed limit of 70MPH. It was out in the middle of nowhere, the closest thing was a bridge about 2 miles after the collision, where we finally were able to pull over.

The way the deer jumped across our driving path, I would have been unable to avoid it even if I had been driving 55MPH, which was much less than the posted speed limit of 70MPH. My speed was varying from 65 to 70MPH during the drive, slightly below the posted speed limit signs.


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Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Oct 16, 2007 at 1:33 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Having driven many miles in rural areas at night, I've always wondered whether one of those high-frequency "deer-alerting whistles" one attaches to the front bumper really work. Or does one just get a bunch of dogs running after you down the road. Any feedback?

A friend recently took out a deer on a back road up near Folsom, going a moderate speed at night. The deer actually ran into the right-front fender of the car more than the car hitting the deer. Still caused damage, but mostly to the late deer.

The CHP wrote the person a letter saying she should have reported the "collision," but dropped the matter when she replied that the deer was clearly at fault yet was unable to file a report due to the circumstance of being deceased.

-jay


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2007 at 4:33 am

joe,

you said "Plus cars are supposed to be far enough apart to stop safely when the car ahead's brake lights go on. Just a case of unsafe driving"

Being far apart from other cars depends very much on "other" cars being far apart from you. Unless you haven't ever driven on the freeway and any busy road you know that if you try to keep safe distance another car will place itself in between you and the car in front of you- there is no way to keep that distance and it's not "unsafe" driving, it's just the reality of driving.
I drive very responsively ( never hit anything or anybody) and I would probably have hit that deer in the same circunstancies.

There is also no way to avoid physics. It is a normal reaction to want to brake but as another post said you shouldn't. If something jumps in front of you unless you are driving with absolutely no cars or precipices in sight you better hit it otherwise you will swerve (as a billiard ball) and you will be thrown sideways, hitting other cars, people on the side of the road or your passengers.

Contrary to popular belief if the car in front of you stops suddenly and you hit it, you may indeed not be at fault- it is a favorite for insurance fraud and the distance you would need to keep not to hit it would be "infinite".

Physics: trucks are too massive to be able to stop suddenly. An eigtheen wheeler would need so much distance between itself and the next vehicle that it wouldn't be able to be in

These occurences are what is called " accidents". Don't be too self righteous.


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2007 at 4:36 am

Sorry,

where I said "Physics: trucks are too massive to be able to stop suddenly. An eigtheen wheeler would need so much distance between itself and the next vehicle that it wouldn't be able to be in"
I should have read

"...next vehicle that it wouldn't be able to be on the road"


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Posted by joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2007 at 7:40 am

That infinite distance stuff is just nonsense, an excuse for not obeying the speed limit and not driving responsibly.

Joe (ex-physics major)


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Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2007 at 10:48 am

The deer died, but everyone inside the car was safe. We have engineered our cars to allow the passengers to survive crashes rather than put our efforts into avoiding crashes. The result is that our cars are very safe for those inside, but not for those outside. Just like the deer, pedestrians and bicyclists have not benefited from these advances in engineering. Indeed, drivers often now think that their cars will save them from bad driving. Cars are even advertised that way! I am not saying that this case involved bad driving, just that it points out the disparity in safety for those inside the cage and those outside the cage.


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