Safety experts long have told us that it’s better to hit a deer head-on rather than swerve to avoid a collision. Yet a new study from Farmers Insurance finds that only 14 percent of drivers in the Midwest agree with that advice.

Perhaps testimony from law enforcement will change that tune. An Isanti County sheriff’s deputy was responding to a call near Cambridge on Oct. 21 when a deer bounded out of a ditch. The deputy followed the experts’ advice by hitting the brakes and staying in his lane. He struck the deer. It was a violent collision, as the squad’s hood went into the windshield and the front end was mangled. But the deputy survived.

Collisions with deer can be dangerous, but “if the deputy swerved he would have rolled and been injured or worse,” the department said in a statement. “Staying in a straight line kept injuries to a minimum when the air bags deployed.”

Swerving or taking evasive action can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, and then “gravity takes over and that can lead to a deadlier outcome,” said Paul Quinn, head of customer claims for Farmers Insurance.

October and November are prime months for motorists to be entangled in animal-vehicle crashes, and this year the odds of striking one of those highway hazards in Minnesota is up 8 percent from last year, with one in 74 drivers at risk of hitting or being hit by a deer or other big animal such as an elk or moose, according to State Farm Insurance’s 15th annual deer claim study.

Farmers Insurance ranked Minnesota the fifth highest in the nation, with 55 percent of comprehensive claims filed in the state between September and November resulting from motor vehicle-animal interactions.

Quinn said there are things drivers can do. They should slow down at dawn and dusk when deer are most active. Wear seat belts. Use the middle lane on a multilane road. That will give drivers a bit more time to spot a crossing animal. High beams can help, but be sure not to blind oncoming drivers. Stay on the lookout, and not just where you see warning signs about deer. Quinn stressed that deer can appear anytime, anywhere, even in suburban settings. In 2015, there were 158 deer-vehicle crashes in Dakota County, the most of anywhere in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

After striking an animal, it’s best to stay in the vehicle and call 911, Quinn said. Standing on the roadway may startle the injured animal, which may cause it to panic and cause additional damage to the vehicle — or harm to the driver.

Finally, here’s another tip that drivers may not have thought of: Pack a survival kit with blankets, water, food and a flashlight. In the unfortunate case of a collision, the car may not be drivable, so follow the Scouts’ motto and be prepared.


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