The term "deer caught in the headlights" exists for a reason. Although they might look cute, deer are the dumbest animals on the planet. Here are some tips on how to avoid hitting them.
Deer are vehicle destroyers. They're quite possibly the stupidest animals on four legs — driving anywhere in rural North America is like playing a particularly furry game of chicken. Deer are erratic, unpredictable, and big enough to cause massive damage to your car if contact occurs. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), deer-related accidents cause an estimated $1.1 billion in vehicle damage every year. But fear not: If you wander off the beaten path, you don't have to be a statistic.
Understanding deer behavior is one of the first and best ways to avoid accidents, so let's address some of their habits first. Deer are social animals and generally travel in groups — if you see one, there are invariably more behind. Because they travel in packs, deer operate on the follow-the-leader principle: Once one animal crosses a road, the others are likely to follow. They also tend to make split-second decisions regarding movement: Just because a deer is sitting on one side of the road as you approach doesn't mean that it won't change its mind and dart across at the wrong moment.
Deer are most active from dusk until dawn, when ambient temperatures are cooler and predators aren't as much of a threat. This means they're most active when your eyes are least equipped to spot them. Thankfully, there's an upside — deer come factory-equipped with something called tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of ocular tissue that makes their eyes easy to spot at night. Scan the darkness constantly for two shiny greenish-yellow dots looking your direction.
Like all animals, deer need water to survive, and they've got their favorite watering holes. When you drive down the road and see a sign warning of possible deer crossings, it's likely because there's a stream or pond nearby. Take caution and be especially wary when traveling through marshy areas.
Because deer are prey animals, they tend to seek cover while traveling. They like to hang out in high grass, shrubbery, fields, and forests, which unfortunately covers most of America's non-desert landscape. When those environs are close to the highway and there are forested areas nearby, keep an eye out.
There are, of course, devices that are said to ward off deer. The long-popular "deer whistle" is stuck to nearly every vehicle bumper in rural America — it's supposed to work by using wind to generate a high-frequency sound that scares the deer off, but their effectiveness hasn't really been proven. In reality, the best defense starts with the you, the driver, constantly scanning along the road. When in doubt, play it safe: Anticipate a visit from these hooved idiots, assuming that they'll probably wander into your path at the worst possible time.