This evening, I was driving home on a highway that is separated by a thick, wooded median, with wooded areas on either side of the highway, and traffic was moving along at a decent clip. As I came around the small bend in the road, I suddenly saw the brake lights, and the strange, cautious driving in both lanes ahead of me. The story of the slow-down soon began to unfold, as I saw the cars were attempting to avoid the splintered bits of glass and car debris in the inner “fast” lane. Traffic crawled for a moment, and I saw the dead deer on the grassy shoulder, and then two cars, one on the inner shoulder and one on the outer. As the cars crept past the car on the right, I saw that the headlight and grill was smashed inward on the driver’s front, but not so badly that it seemed to affect the driver’s space. Still, it was a relief to see someone moving around inside the car.
My first reaction was to pull over in front of the damaged car and see if the driver was ok. I put my hazard lights on and cautiously made my way over to the car behind me. The man was then standing in front of his car, blankly looking at the smashed in grill, obviously in shock. I asked him if he was okay. He said he was, and his first question to me was whether the deer was okay. By now, a woman had made her way across the highway, and she told him that the deer was dead. He made no comment, but a stricken look passed over his face. I asked if the woman was ok, and she said that she just narrowly missed being in the accident, but that she was fine. I asked them both if the police had been called, and he asked me if I thought that he should do that. I said that he should, and volunteered to take care of it for him.
After I contacted the police and gave them the location, I turned back just in time to see the woman, who apparently had crossed the highway back to her car, yelling at a car that sounded like it had just stopped short of hitting her. Oh wow, I thought, we nearly had a worse situation. I looked for the man, and saw that he was walking down the highway, still on the phone. Did he go to see the deer? I couldn’t tell what he was up to, but I was afraid to leave him there alone, as shaken as he seemed to be. Was he doing something irrational? Why was he crossing the highway, and searching the brush on the other side of the guard rail? I noted that the other woman had left, so there was no one to consult.
Soon, it became apparent that he was searching for the missing part of the front of his car, and he was coming back towards the car with some of the grill. I don’t know if it was worth saving, but at least that made some sense.
I don’t blame the man for being shaken. Within the same week, on the same exact stretch of road, I had nearly hit a deer that was bolting across a clearing on a direct collision course with my car. Had he not veered as I stomped on my brakes, I would have been in the same shape as this poor guy, or worse. It took me and my husband a while to calm down after that narrow escape, and we hadn’t even made contact. I have been in a few too many car accidents, and I recognized the shape he was in. Was he my problem? No, but I was not going to leave him at that point, at least not until the police showed up to take over. One thing that everyone can do in situations like this, that I hope they will do, is to take care of others when they are vulnerable and in need of help.
The deer population in our area is on the rise, and over-development of once-huge tracts of wooded area has forced them out into the suburbs, streets and parks. When I was a child in this area, I think I may have spotted a deer once or twice a year, and only when I was in the woods. Now, I rarely have a day when I don’t see one, if not many. And not from a distance, in the woods, but a few feet away in my own yard, crossing the streets as I drive to work, or grazing on the sides of the highways, only a few feet from the rushing cars.
People are of two minds about the increase in our communion with deer: They either think they are beautiful and feel sorry for how much we’ve encroached on their habitat, or they are angry that they are plentiful enough to pose danger in the form of Lyme disease via ticks, or physical harm or even death via car crashes. I understand both viewpoints very well. One thing is for certain, and that is deer are anxious, unpredictable creatures prone to surprising burst of activity and hair-raising, unannounced changes in course.
If you like deer, and tend to argue in their favor, all you can see is their impressive size, and make excuses for any of their undesirable behavior, as it affects humans. They are beautiful, and I do respect that their nature makes them behave in ways that may be incomprehensible to me, but which are completely reasonable and admirable to the deer themselves, and to their supporters.
However, their seemingly irrational and unpredictable behavior can make them dangerous. The danger is obvious to the individual with the smashed car, and the child with Lyme disease from a deer tick bite. The problem is that the danger also has a ripple effect. One bizarre dash across the highway by a wreckless deer causes a car crash, a near-miss of a human almost being hit by another car, the potential of other cars crashing into one another in the immediate aftermath of the accident, and so on.
Humans depend on a certain amount of factors to remain constant in order for safe car travel to be possible. There are laws and social conventions which make the potential chaos of traffic become a well-oiled machine (most of the time). It is frightening to know that this one rogue deer, this one unpredictable and wild creature, could make moves that can affect so many, without the will or the ability to consider the ramifications of its actions in the moment, and in the future. But what can be done to guard against the negative effect of a deer running chaotically into the river of traffic? One thing we can do is try to support one another, try to minimize the damage done. Help out someone who is adversely affected by the deer, even if it isn’t affecting you directly. We can fight back by using all of the tools at our command to keep the deer population at bay, and minimize the potential damage that a wild-eyed, unpredictable deer can inflict. We can co-exist as we drive by and see them grazing on the side of the road – but never take your eyes off of them, and protect yourself as best as you can.