Deer: The 400-lb. wrecking ball

Special to Wisconsin State Farmer
Broken antlers lay on the dashboard of this SUV following a deer vs. car crash. Drivers are reminded to be on the lookout for deer during hunting season.

Madison — The mere notion of hitting a deer might cause some people to freeze like a deer in the headlights. The burst airbag, the crumpled bumper, the shattered headlight and the sledgehammered hood. While it might be a traumatic event, it's all part of the season. Deer movement in the Fall - welcome to Wisconsin!

During the Fall mating season from mid-October to November, nearly 7,000 deer-vehicle accidents will occur in this state. [1] Less dense foliage, higher animal activity levels and an earlier setting sun collectively result in nearly 150 accidents per day during the seasonal peak with more than 400 personal injuries on an annual basis. On a national scale the figures climb: 1.5 million deer-related vehicle accidents occur per annum according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which result in over $1 billion dollars in property damage, 10,000 plus injuries and between 175-200 fatalities.

And there's really no such thing as a “minor” deer-vehicle crash. When deer rocket into your car, they collide with significant force. Phil Gillingham, director at Ball Body Shop, 2225 Eagle Drive in Middleton, a division of Smart Motors, said the average hit can cost between $2,500 and $6,000 with many smash-ups resulting in a totaled out loss.

“Most deer will hit the front bumper and then roll onto the top of the hood—and there's no protection there,” said Gillingham. “They commonly take out the air conditioner, crack the radiator and wreck the transmission oil cooler. And that's not to mention the giant dent in the hood!”

While this situation is unfortunate, Ball Body Shop, a division of Smart Motors, has the expertise required to fix any deer crash incident. But to make sure the accidents never occur in the first place, Gillingham recommends avoiding high density areas where deer congregate after dark. Rural and suburban roads with zig-zagging stretches, long straightaways, uphill corners, sharp curves, dense culverts and low lighting can all overlap to create dangerous choke-points where accidents may occur.

Avoiding a crash

  • Always use caution when driving - especially at dusk and into the evening hours. When light levels are low animals are more active.
  • Complacency equals negligence. Stay alert, focused and pay attention – be aware of the landscape and your environment.
  • Deer generally travel in small groups. If one crosses the road, odds are there are others nearby that might attempt crossing. Watch for and recognize deer crossing signs.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to hit the deer. This might sound callous, but if the choice comes down to hitting a deer or swerving over the center line, hitting the deer will cause less damage and reduces mortality rates.
  • Be a speed limit driver, higher speeds reduce reaction times - going the speed limit increases travel safety.
  • Keep your lights, brakes and tires well maintained for optimal performance. Buckle-up, don't tailgate and remember to slow it down.

And, prepare for the unexpected.