A few nights ago, I was driving up Courthouse Road when I suddenly noticed some tiny lights and shadowy movements off to my right. When my high beams reached the spot, I saw three deer grazing nonchalantly along the road. Except for the light shining off their eyes, they were almost invisible until that moment. And they were unworried by my sudden appearance.
A couple of days later, Editor Samantha Perry asked if I would do a weekend story. West Virginia was once again the nation’s number one place for vehicle-deer collisions.
I’m sure most West Virginians who have spent time behind the wheel have their deer crash and close call stories. One of my scariest deer moments happened years ago on the West Virginia Turnpike.
It was late at night and I was heading back to Mercer County after visiting my mom and dad. Heading south, I was approaching the toll plaza near Flat Top when I suddenly spotted a deer in the toll booths’ lights. Now, I wasn’t going very fast, but that buck was standing right at the road’s edge and a tractor-trailer was coming up on my right. There was nothing I could do if that buck suddenly decided to step into my lane.
And I’ve seen deer walk oblivious right in front of oncoming cars. One day I was approaching the Camp Creek area when a deer sauntered across the interstate as the cars and trucks approached. Even getting brushed by a couple of them didn’t speed it up. It ignored high-speed death and kept going; and it miraculously reached the other side.
Fortunately, the buck didn’t step in front of me. I passed by it with a couple of feet to spare and it didn’t react at all. Maybe he had some experience with traffic.
From what I’ve learned, you’re most likely to crash into a deer at night. My near misses have all happened after dark. One night I was driving down Maple Acres Road when a deer came bounding out of the darkness and right in front of me. Only a couple seconds difference in timing kept me from hitting it. There was another instance near the Mercer Mall when a pair of deer trotted in front of me. I came so close that my bumper actually brushed one of them. I don’t think either one of them even looked in my direction.
I guess when it comes to evolution, deer haven’t evolved to deal with cars yet. My theory is that a lot of them just don’t register motor vehicles as a threat. Motor vehicles have been around for only a few decades, and a lot of animals haven’t adjusted to seeing them. Our cars and trucks are not in that instinct catalog that tells bucks and does “these things are a threat.” Maybe deer will become more traffic savvy in a few hundred years.
With night arriving earlier now, I try to follow the speed limit and stay extra vigilant when I’m driving home. My bright lights illuminate the road well ahead of me, but deer can pop out of nowhere in a second. Reducing speed and actually driving according to conditions could give you a few more seconds to react. Swerving doesn’t do much good because there’s a chance that you’ll lose control and crash without touching the buck that stepped in front of you. I’m hoping that I won’t find myself suddenly presented with that situation on my way home tonight.
I keep telling myself that there are worse animals to hit than a deer. I haven’t heard of any collisions between vehicles and elk, but I’m sure that would be worse because those animals are so huge. Hitting a moose would be even worse; they will actually attack vehicles, and they’re big enough to inflict some serious damage. My mom likes moose and she loved a moose picture I gave her recently, but I think that sense of wonder would be over after a face-to-face meeting with an irritated specimen.
Fortunately deer, not moose, are a fact of life along our highways. Deer roam our forests and step into our world and into the path of our oncoming vehicles pretty frequently. All we can do is remain cautious and hope for good timing when a buck or doe decides that it wants to cross a road.
— Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at email@example.com