Close call last night! Driving home from a gathering, a doe leapt the guardrail in front of me and sprinted into the path of the car. At 60 miles per hour I slammed into full ABS mode and took extreme evasive action, using all of the opposite lane (no oncoming traffic, fortunately) and going into a four-wheel skid first in one direction in the other—and then neatly recovered. I essentially drove around where the deer was about to be, at sixty miles an hour.
I felt pretty proud of myself afterward. I didn't panic, I reacted instantly, the car performed well, and I performed well. I didn't touch the deer, which was fairly amazing considering she leapt directly into the car's path and left very little room to maneuver.
I've learned to be alert for deer on the road at dusk and twilight.
And you know what I was thinking? That the image of the deer suspended in midair above the guardrail in the light of the brights over the right front fender of the car was a picture. It looked really neat. I can see it right now in my mind's eye.
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Bill McFadden: "Nice job driving. My uncle who was encyclopedic about 'the outdoors' taught me that where there is one deer, there will almost always be more following. His lesson paid off one night on my way from Wilkes-Barre to Elmira. I slowed for a deer crossing ahead and the impatient driver who passed me hit the second deer at 60 mph. That picture is still in my neural archives 65 years later."
Nick Van Zanten: "In Michigan, it's always a good idea to drive with a doe permit handy, that way, if you were careful you can eat her. Odds are pretty good (one in 80) that you will collide with one. I got mine a couple of years ago, but the guys in the truck behind me had the doe tag. Sheesh! I got the $1,500 body shop bill."
Mike replies: I don't want a body shop bill, and bully for the dudes in the pickup, but, speaking just for myself, tick-infested roadkill does not appeal as dinner! :-)
Steve Rosenblum: "I'm very glad that you and the deer ended up unhurt. However, despite your pride in your reactions and response, what you did was unwise. According to law enforcement and natural resources folks, swerving to avoid hitting a deer is much more dangerous than hitting the deer if you can't stop in time. If you swerve the chances that you will lose control of your car and hit a tree, another car, or end up upside down in a ditch are higher than if you hit the deer and stay in your lane. If you Google 'What to do if you're about to hit a deer with your car' you will find numerous postings from official sources supporting this approach.
"A relative of mine was driving home at dusk from fishing on the Madison River in Montana when an elk jumped up on the road in front of his car and he did what you did. He ended up swerving off the road, rolling down an embankment, and hanging by his seatbelt upside down in his (now completely totaled) rental car. Fortunately, outside of having to extract some pieces of shattered windshield glass from his skin he was OK. He doesn't do that anymore."
Mike replies: Thanks for the information, but—well, it was a reaction, not a thoughtful, considered strategy. And being who I am, I'm also thinking about the deer, not just myself, and I doubt I can relearn that. At least not on the gut-reaction level.
However, thinking back on it, I think I applied pressure to the brakes incrementally (though quickly), because my long-ago driver's training was to not slam on the brakes because of the risk of going into a skid. So one thing I'm going to do is practice panic stops a few times. The local speed limit is 55 MPH, even on winding, hilly two-lane roads, and most people drive 60–65 MPH or even faster. I usually set the cruise control for roughly 62 or 63 MPH. Driving that speed, when no one's in sight, I'm going to practice slamming on the brakes a few times. I need to retrain myself to let ABS keep me from skidding and stop the car as quickly as possible.
And by the way, last night the wildlife I encountered was a fox kit that was checking out some roadkill on the centerline. I saw the reflections of his eyes from far away, and was driving slowly by the time I came up on him.
Jim A.: "This is one of the few concerns I have when riding my beloved motorcycle. Even though I live in a state where this sort of accident is a rarity, I always keep an eye peeled. Here are some interesting insurance stats on the likelihood of collision with deer for each state."