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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Wildlife in the roadway

I recently wrote about the rapid emergence of pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles occurring every spring.  Along with that phenomenon, activity levels of deer, elk and other roaming animals rise with the warmer weather.  I truly believe that instead of posting occasional “watch for deer” signs aside the highway at selected spots, the warnings should be affixed to everyone’s dashboard since the threat is actually continuous.

While both are hazards, deer are less foreboding than elk.  The average white-tailed deer weighs 150 pounds, whereas elk average over 750 pounds, so from a standpoint of mass, a collision with an elk is similar to hitting a horse. 

What’s the best way to react when wildlife is in your path?  That depends.  Two separate nonfatal early May rollover crashes on I-90 near Cle Elum resulted from drivers veering to avoid elk, an evasive reaction that often ends badly.

One’s first thought may be that those hasty evasive moves were ill-advised, since a common driver trainer mantra is, “Don’t veer for deer.”  However, Trooper Brian Moore of the Washington State Patrol advises that he and his peers are trained to react according to the size of the animal in the roadway.

“If it’s taller than your hood, you’re better off avoiding the animal, claims Moore.  “We’ve seen lots of fatalities in that I-90 corridor from drivers hitting elk that crash through the windshield”

He added, “I realize gauging an animal’s size is a split-second decision.  But I tell people if it’s shorter than your hood, use straight-line braking. If it’s taller than your hood, avoid the animal as best you can.”

Driver instructors and insurance companies have long-advised that with deer, the safest option is to brake quickly but stay in your lane and maintain control.  A history of insurance claims reveals that you’re much more likely to wreck your car and risk injury or death if you swerve to avoid a deer, rather than hit it.  That data also applies to other smaller animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, et cetera.

There are always individual instances where a hit would have been better than a swerve or a swerve would be better than a hit.  Such specific incidents are difficult to quantify after the fact, since even if a swerve results in a rollover, it may have been worse with a collision for example.

That’s why collecting data from the aftermath of animal avoidance or strikes and analyzing trends of injury, death and property damage can be helpful to driver behavior in those instances.

Even in an emergency, a controlled swerve is better that one that is too harsh.  Drivers commonly turn the wheel too abruptly when encountering an obstacle or when waking from a sleep.  Those drastic swerves and the subsequent series of overcorrections regularly lead to road departures and rollovers.

When faced with an animal in the roadway, straight braking is generally recommended to reduce speed before a collision.  Or, if the animal is huge, or it’s judged that there is ample warning to avoid it with a swerve, try to remain cool and restrict steering wheel movement within a controllable range.

With spring snowstorms, deer and elk remain in their lower winter range areas and have not yet migrated to the high country. Hopefully, many will spend the summer it that high country, but we still must anticipate them all year.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

I recently wrote about the rapid emergence of pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles occurring every spring.  Along with that phenomenon, activity levels of deer, elk and other roaming animals rise with the warmer weather.  I truly believe that instead of posting occasional “watch for deer” signs aside the highway at selected spots, the warnings should be affixed to everyone’s dashboard since the threat is actually continuous.

While both are hazards, deer are less foreboding than elk.  The average white-tailed deer weighs 150 pounds, whereas elk average over 750 pounds, so from a standpoint of mass, a collision with an elk is similar to hitting a horse. 

What’s the best way to react when wildlife is in your path?  That depends.  Two separate nonfatal early May rollover crashes on I-90 near Cle Elum resulted from drivers veering to avoid elk, an evasive reaction that often ends badly.

One’s first thought may be that those hasty evasive moves were ill-advised, since a common driver trainer mantra is, “Don’t veer for deer.”  However, Trooper Brian Moore of the Washington State Patrol advises that he and his peers are trained to react according to the size of the animal in the roadway.

“If it’s taller than your hood, you’re better off avoiding the animal, claims Moore.  “We’ve seen lots of fatalities in that I-90 corridor from drivers hitting elk that crash through the windshield”

He added, “I realize gauging an animal’s size is a split-second decision.  But I tell people if it’s shorter than your hood, use straight-line braking. If it’s taller than your hood, avoid the animal as best you can.”

Driver instructors and insurance companies have long-advised that with deer, the safest option is to brake quickly but stay in your lane and maintain control.  A history of insurance claims reveals that you’re much more likely to wreck your car and risk injury or death if you swerve to avoid a deer, rather than hit it.  That data also applies to other smaller animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, et cetera.

There are always individual instances where a hit would have been better than a swerve or a swerve would be better than a hit.  Such specific incidents are difficult to quantify after the fact, since even if a swerve results in a rollover, it may have been worse with a collision for example.

That’s why collecting data from the aftermath of animal avoidance or strikes and analyzing trends of injury, death and property damage can be helpful to driver behavior in those instances.

Even in an emergency, a controlled swerve is better that one that is too harsh.  Drivers commonly turn the wheel too abruptly when encountering an obstacle or when waking from a sleep.  Those drastic swerves and the subsequent series of overcorrections regularly lead to road departures and rollovers.

When faced with an animal in the roadway, straight braking is generally recommended to reduce speed before a collision.  Or, if the animal is huge, or it’s judged that there is ample warning to avoid it with a swerve, try to remain cool and restrict steering wheel movement within a controllable range.

With spring snowstorms, deer and elk remain in their lower winter range areas and have not yet migrated to the high country. Hopefully, many will spend the summer it that high country, but we still must anticipate them all year.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

I recently wrote about the rapid emergence of pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles occurring every spring.  Along with that phenomenon, activity levels of deer, elk and other roaming animals rise with the warmer weather.  I truly believe that instead of posting occasional “watch for deer” signs aside the highway at selected spots, the warnings should be affixed to everyone’s dashboard since the threat is actually continuous.

While both are hazards, deer are less foreboding than elk.  The average white-tailed deer weighs 150 pounds, whereas elk average over 750 pounds, so from a standpoint of mass, a collision with an elk is similar to hitting a horse. 

What’s the best way to react when wildlife is in your path?  That depends.  Two separate nonfatal early May rollover crashes on I-90 near Cle Elum resulted from drivers veering to avoid elk, an evasive reaction that often ends badly.

One’s first thought may be that those hasty evasive moves were ill-advised, since a common driver trainer mantra is, “Don’t veer for deer.”  However, Trooper Brian Moore of the Washington State Patrol advises that he and his peers are trained to react according to the size of the animal in the roadway.

“If it’s taller than your hood, you’re better off avoiding the animal, claims Moore.  “We’ve seen lots of fatalities in that I-90 corridor from drivers hitting elk that crash through the windshield”

He added, “I realize gauging an animal’s size is a split-second decision.  But I tell people if it’s shorter than your hood, use straight-line braking. If it’s taller than your hood, avoid the animal as best you can.”

Driver instructors and insurance companies have long-advised that with deer, the safest option is to brake quickly but stay in your lane and maintain control.  A history of insurance claims reveals that you’re much more likely to wreck your car and risk injury or death if you swerve to avoid a deer, rather than hit it.  That data also applies to other smaller animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, et cetera.

There are always individual instances where a hit would have been better than a swerve or a swerve would be better than a hit.  Such specific incidents are difficult to quantify after the fact, since even if a swerve results in a rollover, it may have been worse with a collision for example.

That’s why collecting data from the aftermath of animal avoidance or strikes and analyzing trends of injury, death and property damage can be helpful to driver behavior in those instances.

Even in an emergency, a controlled swerve is better that one that is too harsh.  Drivers commonly turn the wheel too abruptly when encountering an obstacle or when waking from a sleep.  Those drastic swerves and the subsequent series of overcorrections regularly lead to road departures and rollovers.

When faced with an animal in the roadway, straight braking is generally recommended to reduce speed before a collision.  Or, if the animal is huge, or it’s judged that there is ample warning to avoid it with a swerve, try to remain cool and restrict steering wheel movement within a controllable range.

With spring snowstorms, deer and elk remain in their lower winter range areas and have not yet migrated to the high country. Hopefully, many will spend the summer it that high country, but we still must anticipate them all year.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.