Jim Braaten

Jim Braaten lives near Kenyon, Minn., and has been an avid outdoorsman for more than 35 years. He lives on the family farm that was first settled by his ancestors 152 years ago. He has been an outdoors writer and photographer, and he owns a business producing and marketing calendars.

Lessons learned about driving; just hit the deer

Posted by: Jim Braaten Updated: November 22, 2009 - 6:51 PM

It happened about 20 years ago.   A nice, bright, early summer day when suddenly the serenity of the moment was abruptly interrupted by brakes squealing and tires rubbing violently on the highway pavement.   I looked outside the window only to see a cloud of post-accident dust slowly drifting away with the prevailing breeze.

I quickly grabbed my keys and drove closer to the accident scene to render whatever aid may have been necessary.   Upon my arrival, I found an older, burly, rough-and-tumble truck driver that certainly fit the prototypical over-the-road truck driver appearance.   What seemed out of character, however, was the fact this seasoned semi-tractor operator was crying uncontrollably.

Was he in pain?   Well, not so much physically…but his ego was bruised and he was now dealing with the realization that a small fawn, just several weeks old, had caused this big rig to crash violently straight into the ditch.   Adding further insult to injury, the truck driver then admitted to me he had recently achieved a career milestone of driving a million accident free miles.   Strangely, the sudden presence of a 30 pound fawn on the roadway found a way to tarnish the truck driver’s stellar driving record.

As I’ve previously shared in my blogging, I also once worked for over a decade in the emergency services field for an ambulance.   During that career, several calls come to mind involving accidents directly caused by deer.   Perhaps no other single incident left a more vivid and heartbreaking image in my mind than an accident in late November of 2004.

It was about 10 p.m. and we were dispatched to the scene of a car accident about ten miles from town.   Upon our arrival, the responding rescue squad had already pulled a young girl from the car as it became fully engulfed with fire.   Sadly, a grandmother and another young grandchild did not have the same lucky fate—they perished despite the rescuer's best efforts otherwise.

As deputies traced the cause of the incident a young buck laid paralyzed, but still alive not far from where this tragedy first developed.

On another bright mid-day afternoon our response took us to a motorcycle accident involving a deer.   Apparently out of a cornfield popped a deer which collided with an unsuspecting victim who had just purchased her first bike.   In this case there wasn’t much the victim could have done to prevent the accident, but there’s certainly no disputing the head trauma she sustained would have been significantly reduced had a helmet been worn on that day's ride.

The point I’m trying to underscore is deer accidents can occur virtually any time of the year no matter what mode of transportation is being used.   Obviously during the fall rut and again during the late spring birthing period these incidents will peak.   As a defensive motorist, it is wise to mentally prepare in advance how to react when split-second actions must be made if encountering a deer or any roadway obstruction.

Many defensive driving classes will teach that quick, evasive steering to avoid a situation must be handled with utmost care (and training) if a positive outcome is to occur.   Where drivers typically go wrong is when they snap the wheel one way (to avoid an object) then immediately snap it back the other way to correct the action in an attempt to regain control.   Guess what…the laws of physics dictate there’s going to be problems with such abrupt vehicle maneuvering.

Without proper training and lots of practice (in controlled evasive maneuvering) the best plan of action is simply to hit the deer and steer through the event.   Of course, you want to avoid on-coming traffic at all costs, but in most instances you also want to avoid taking the ditch, as well.

Sure, hitting a deer or any animal at highway speeds will likely result in substantial repair costs typically covered by insurance.   Yet, the human and property damage toll is greatly increased when a driver attempts to avoid what often is the inevitable situation.

Ironically, both the experienced truck driver and the grandmother ended up killing the deer in their respective driving situations.   In the case of the motorcyclist, the deer ran off probably no worse for wear.

Bottom line is property damage caused by colliding with a deer can often be easily fixed.   On the other hand, damage caused by losing vehicle control or failing to take proper safety precautions can have devastating human consequences.

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