Avoid the deer in your headlights

Steer clear of deer

There’s a reason “like a deer caught in headlights” is a popular saying — both the deer and the driver tend to freeze in shock before a collision.

Deer-hit insurance claims peak in the fall months, but spring is an active time for deer, too, when they're traveling with their fawns and foraging for that new spring grass, which could be on the other side of the highway.

As urban development encroaches farther into previously unpopulated areas and deer populations boom, experts expect that deer-vehicle collisions will continue to rise. That’s why it’s important for you to know what to do before you hit a deer.

Watching out for deer

Deer are at their most active from predawn to mid-morning and dusk to early evening, corresponding with school and work commutes. But no matter what time you're on the road, follow these tips from the Insurance Information Institute (III) to avoid a collision.

  • No distractions. Distracted driving can be deadly, deer or no deer. Using your cell phone while driving could make it harder to avoid collisions with deer.
  • Be cautious during high-risk travel times. Deer are nocturnal, so the most dangerous times for driving in deer territory are dusk and dawn. Be extra careful around heavily wooded areas, spots where you know deer are common, and wherever you see a deer-crossing road sign.
  • Watch for the “plus one.” Deer rarely travel alone. You’re not necessarily in the clear if you avoid the one deer that leapt into your path. In fact, the same deer may even cross back. Slow down and leave plenty of space between you and other vehicles. Research suggests that deer whistles do not work reliably. Instead, be aware. Rely on your own senses of hearing and sight.
  • Beware of unpredictable behavior. Deer don’t use the same logic as people. They may stop in the middle of the road, or even cross and then double back on a road with no warning.
  • Use high beams when possible. Deer eyes can reflect the vehicle’s headlights, so use high beams if there’s no oncoming traffic.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in deer-vehicle crashes aren’t wearing a seat belt.
  • Slow down and blow your horn. If you’re able to see a deer ahead or on the side of the road, honk your horn. One long blast will help frighten the deer away, as well as alert any nearby drivers of the danger.
  • Don’t veer for deer. If a deer jumps in front of your vehicle, don’t swerve. Instead, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and brake firmly while staying in your lane. You may still hit the deer, but the chances of you walking away are much better than if you swerved, which could result in hitting another vehicle or stationary object, landing in a ditch, or rolling your car. Come to a controlled stop in a safe location.

What to do if you hit a deer

Sometimes, hitting a deer is unavoidable. Stay calm and follow these steps:

  1. Pull off the road and turn on your emergency lights. This will alert other drivers to stop or slow down. Be cautious of oncoming traffic.
  2. Call 911. Report the accident to the local authorities who can remove the deer.
  3. Don’t approach the deer. A struck deer may be wounded and frightened and could attack you. Their antlers and hooves are extremely sharp, so it’s best to keep your distance and leave it to professionals to handle.
  4. Document the scene. Snap a photo or video of your damaged vehicle and the accident scene. Note the date, time, and location of the accident. Get names, addresses, and telephone numbers of anyone else involved, including witnesses. Gathering this information will help your claims adjuster process your claim faster.

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You can also report a claim by calling 877-467-2252. 


The information included here was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice or other advice.