How Researchers Are Trying to Eliminate ‘Deer in the Headlights’ Car Crashes for Good

by Jonathan Howard
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No matter where you live deer are probably causing car crashes. It’s the old “deer in the headlights” cliche some researchers want to stop. The outdoors can be dangerous. Imagine if there was a way to prevent deer from getting blinded and frozen on our roadways at night? It’d save a lot of heartache and trouble, that’s for sure.

The research began in 2018 when director Travis L. DeVault was working for the U.S. government. Now at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab, he’s continuing the work. In Sandusky, Ohio, NASA owns some land. There, free-range whitetail deer roam. They were perfect for the experiment.

Basically, this all revolves around lights. When a deer sees standard headlights at night, usually high beams, it is stuck and frozen on the road many times. This causes accidents. Both directly with the animal and indirectly. People swerve to miss, overcorrect, and the next thing you know the car is in a ditch or flipping through a field.

Deer on the road is a real issue. Rural folks will hardly let you leave the house without saying “Watch for those deer now”. So, instead of standard lights, the researchers are adding a light bar to illuminate the grill of the vehicle. The test vehicle is a Ford F-250, gray in color with a black plastic grille attached. The light bar is hood level, points down at a 45-degree angle, and lights up the front of the truck.

The deer at the NASA location are used as the test subjects. There are two different light setups, and the researchers determine what a dangerous interaction is based on the risk the incident poses to the driver.

So, what kind of results are they getting? Well, they seem pretty promising.

Standard Headlights Are Three-Times More Dangerous in Deer Car Crashes

When it comes to reducing deer car crashes, this light bar might be the right idea. It is a bar that faces into the vehicle, so it poses no risk of blinding other motorists. The numbers for this research show promising results in reducing the risk of a dangerous interaction.

31 vehicle approaches were done with each headlight setup. That means 62 total interactions. Out of the regular headlights, 11 of 31 approaches were deemed dangerous by the researchers. While the test was done at roughly 37 MPH (60 KMPH), that’s plenty fast when a deer is on the road. So, on the other end, with the LED light bar on the truck, things were safer.

Out of the 31 approaches with the light bar, only 3 were deemed dangerous. That means it is around 3.5 times more dangerous to not have the light bar. However, that isn’t the end of this research. The best thing to stop deer related car crashes would be to find something that makes them avert from roadways. Lights will help, but they won’t stop all interactions.

Also, they might be able to apply some of the research to other animals. Wild pigs, turkeys, and other wildlife that may venture into the roadways of America. Keeping them off the road and safe will keep people on the road and safe.

Outsider.com