Why Do Deer Jump in Front of Cars?

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Introduction

There are mainly two reasons why deer jump in front of cars:

  • They get spooked.
  • They are in heat/rut.

In North America, deer-vehicle collision is not a new phenomenon. Such accidents date their history back when roadways were built close to natural deer habitats. Since then, the number of deer-related accidents has steadily increased, leading to 200 deaths annually on average. As most survivors have encountered, deer tend to run towards the vehicles instead of otherwise.

As anyone would think, people’s recklessness would be the first thought of the cause of deer-vehicle accidents. On the contrary, deer’s quire behavior of jumping in front of cars is to blame.  With this observation, everyone is now asking why deer jump in front of cars.

There are around 1.23 million deer-related traffic incidents per year, according to Wikipedia. And the cost is, on average, $900,305 of property damage per accident. Most of these accidents happen in November. Deer are actually the most dangerous animal in North America when considering that deer-related traffic incidents kill over 200 Americans each year. Compare this with the notorious shark, which kills 1 American per year.

This article tries to establish reasons why deer behave in such a manner.

Are Deer Attracted to Roads or Traffic?

In many states, you are more likely to find deer grazing near roads and highways. As a result, they become accustomed to the sounds and noises caused by moving vehicles. In such environments, the animals tend to move across the roads in search of food and mates.

Deer adapt in traffic or road infested habitats in two different ways. One, they might learn that the roads are dangerous and opt to stay off. On the other hand, they can get used to the roadways and stop fearing them completely. Eventually, they start wandering onto the roads and hence high chances of causing accidents.

Deer are known to be very mobile animals. As they travel around in search of pasture, they get attracted to road shoulders and roadsides. This is because deer find most of the plants planted in these areas highly attractive to eat.

Deer are also more often found on the roadways during cold seasons. When roads get covered by ice, the salt put to reduce icing on the roads attracts deer. It is, therefore, not uncommon to find deer licking the salty tarmacs.

Reasons Deer Jump in Front of Cars

Sometimes it feels like the deer are literally running in front of the cars on purpose. There are no absolute reasons why deer run into or jump in front of cars. So, they do not do it deliberately.  It is not that deer are usually attracted to vehicles or something. However, there are some thoughts and justified things that can be attributed to this deer’s behavior.

They Easily Get Spooked

One of the causes of that prompt deer to jump towards cars is that the animals are easily frightened by cars in motion. In most cases (not always) deer tend to run uphill when they encounter scaring situations. Therefore, if you come across deer when moving downhill, the animal will most probably flee towards the uphill side. The animal would also imagine the vehicle as a hill and hence decide to jump over. In such situations, people interpret that deer run towards an oncoming vehicle hence causing collisions. 

Also, when spooked by traffic sounds, deer become confused not knowing which way to run. As a result, deer may dart out in front of cars occasionally causing accidents. Other outcomes would be standing still in the roads, or even running towards vehicles. 

Deer’s Social Behavior

Deer are social animals and hence live in herds. In some instances, the herd members would be grazing at a distance, but no very far away from each other. At times they would be on opposite sides of the road. When driving past a herd of deer, the inferior members of the herd, say fawns, often run towards superior members, say the bulls. 

In such cases, when younger members are frightened by moving vehicles, they might seem to run towards them when crossing to find their superiors.

Habitat Fragmentation 

Habitat fragmentation refers to when vast fields of wildlife habitat are subdivided into smaller pieces by some topographic feature. Since deer move a lot, large habitat areas would be the most ideal for their survival.   

However, due to human activities, deer’s natural habitat has now been broken up by roads. As a result, deer cross roads on a regular basis which inevitably causes accidents from time to time. 

The Prey Animal Behavior

Generally, it is more likely that deer view a car in motion as a threat since it is a prey animal to several predators. In reaction to that, when the car gets closer, they find it the ideal time to juke out of the way hence hitting the vehicle. 

During the Rut

The male deer behave in an idiotic manner during rut. In such times, the bucks only focus on the does, trucking them the same way a beagle hound would track a rabbit. On the other hand, does go crazy when they are on heat.

Therefore, during ruts, the bucks move around much more than usual, searching for does. In the process, they can unknowingly jump in front of your vehicle when chasing a doe that would have probably crossed the road a few minutes earlier.

How Deer’s Vision Contributes to Deer-Vehicle Collisions

Deer are characterized by a peripheral vision that covers 310 degrees. In contrast, humans have a relatively lower visual field – a 120-degree arc. 

They also have monocular vision, whereby their eyes see directly opposite sides. At no particular point can the animals gaze at an object with both eyes. This gives them an extensive visual area. Unfortunately, they do not have depth perception.

On seeing a moving car, deer would interpret it as something strange due to lack of depth perception, and cannot approximate how far the vehicle/threat is. As a result, they extremely panic and decide to take the car head-on hence jumping onto the car.

Deer’s eyes are also different from human eyes in that they have more photoreceptors in the retina. This is the reason for their unique night vision. Although it is of great advantage for the animals to maneuver in the dark, they go blind in a light glare. As a result, deer are susceptible to freezing on the roads on seeing an oncoming vehicle’s headlights.

This justifies the statistics that most deer-vehicle collisions occur in the nights. When blinded by car headlic ghts, they stand still in the direction of the oncoming car. One would, therefore, think that the animal is jumping on the car front before colliding.

A Hunter’s Fun Pack

Conclusion

Deer are relatively intelligent animals, but also known for jumping in front of cars. Well, this behavior is not ending soon, at least given the reasons why it happens. It is however important for motorists to drive cautiously, especially around the areas where deer population is high.

They are advised to also watch out during the rutting period, and even around June when the does are looking for new places to give birth.

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