Deer In The Headlights!

Have you ever heard the phrase deer in the headlights? It describes someone who is dazed, confused, or startled. The term comes from the way deer tends to freeze when they see the bright headlights of an approaching car. Now you know where the term comes from — but you should also be aware of the danger of real deer in the headlights!

Every year, around 725,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions occur in the United States. These accidents have resulted in 2,307 (human) deaths, and over a billion dollars in property damages. Even if the wildlife itself isn’t that large, these types of collisions can cause cars to drive off the road, or hit a tree or other object while trying to avoid a collision. Other times, the animal is thrown through the windshield during the collision, which poses a hazard to the occupants of the vehicle.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions can involve anything from small creatures like opossums and raccoons to large mammals like bears, moose, and wolves. Unfortunately, households pets can also become the victims of wildlife-vehicle collisions, as can endangered species, like the Florida panther. However, deer remain the most common cause of collisions.

No one wants to hit an animal. Here is what you can do to avoid it:

  • Be extra alert when driving in the early morning and evening hours – this is when deer are the most active
  • Use your high-beam headlights
  • If you see an animal in the road, do not swerve to avoid hitting them. This can cause you to lose control of your car. If you can, brake firmly, or slow down as much as you can. Honk the horn to try to scare the animal away.
  • If you see one animal crossing the road, be on the lookout for more. Animals often travel in groups.

Sometimes, though, hitting an animal is inevitable. You may not have time to slow down or safely move out of the animal’s way. If a collision with an animal is about to happen, think quickly.

  • Aim for the spot where the animal is coming from, rather than where it is going. Keep looking at the road, rather than at the animal.
  • If you can, try to strike the animal at an angle, rather than hit it head-on.
  • Let up on the brakes right before the collision. This way, the front end of your vehicle will rise, which prevents the chances of the animal coming through your windshield.

After you hit an animal, pull over to check if its is alive, but only it it’s safe to do so. A wounded animal may be agitated and violent. If you have the information, call a local vet or wildlife rehabilitator. If the wildlife is dead, you should report it to local law enforcement so they can remove the carcass.

You may feel guilty or sad after hitting an animal with your vehicle. However, to protect yourself and your passengers, it is sometimes your best option.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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