If car mounted "Deer Whistles" don't work to scare-off deer, what does?
November 4, 2012 3:23 PM   Subscribe

If "Deer Whistles" don't work, what does?

They go by multiple names – deer whistles, deer horns, and deer alert – and are supposed to, using ultra sonic waves, get deer running away from your car. But they appear to be bunk according to the research I found.

In the meantime, I drive home at night on the edge of the driver's seat. 2 weeks ago we saw over twenty deer in a one hour trip. I'd love some scientific help (if it exists) in avoiding an ugly collision with this beautiful and prolific animal.

So, beyond being on hyper-alert and believing in magical whistles, does anything work?

(Serious and helpful answers appreciated.)
posted by SteveLambert to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Good headlights, and, possibly, install long range driving lights (use when and where it is legal) that illuminate the sides of the road better than original equipment lights.

That and slow the heck down, learn what to do WHEN a deer runs in front of your car (brake straight ahead, don't swerve), and learn to understand that when there is one deer, there are probably more....

There is no magic answer...

/I've hit more than my share....
posted by HuronBob at 3:46 PM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

I live in an area with lots of wildlife (especially deer and moose) on the roads. This brochure [pdf] has several good tips for avoiding or reducing the severity of collisions:

Preventing Wildlife Vehicle Collisions—SLOW DOWN!
  • Speed is a common factor in vehicle collisions.
  • Speed reduces the driver’s ability to steer away from objects.
  • Speed extends the distance required to stop.
  • Reducing your speed from 100 km/h to80 km/h gives an extra 30 metres to stop—that’s several car lengths.
  • If you see wildlife, slow down immediately and be prepared to stop.
  • Resist the tendency to speed up on long straight stretches with good driving conditions, on clear nights and on dry roads. Collisions occur more than expected in good conditions.
Wildlife collisions can be anticipated and avoided more successfully at slower speeds.

Driver Education - Hints for the Highway
  • Watch for the Signs - Obey wildlife warning signs and speed changes. Don’t disregard the signs simply because you have seen them before. If there is wildlife on or near the road - SLOW DOWN! Collision avoidance and driver response time are both improved at slower speeds.
  • While Driving - Intentionally watch for wildlife and drive defensively. Be alert between dusk and dawn, when light levels are low, and animals are most active.
  • Use Your Vehicle - Clean and align vehicle headlights. Keep your windshield clean. Honk your horn to startle wildlife off the road. Use high beams and scan the road ahead with quick glances.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:00 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

The problem with scaring deer off the road is that deer are incredibly stupid. I once chased a deer 1/3 mile down the road at 10-15 mph. It kept running right down the middle of the lane.

Just drive slower.
posted by ryanrs at 4:07 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sadly, unless they have recent, memorable and relevant experience with transportation and physics issues, deer really seem not to put two and two together about "car will hurt me if I jump in front of it." I've had them look me (the driver of a fairly hefty-looking vehicle) in the eye, and then leap directly into the path of my car. Fortunately, I can go very slow on my street, a luxury you may not always have on a highway. Even if you do scare them, a panicking deer isn't good at thinking things through either. The worst ones are the ones you can't see: On an embankment above your headlights' beam, jumping downward without giving you time to slow down further. Those are deer that will be happy to jump onto your car, no matter how slow you go.

Not sure there is anything gimmicky that works, but I wouldn't mind being proven wrong. Slow is your best bet. Don't drop your comp and collision coverage, I guess, and add extra time to your trip planning.
posted by sageleaf at 4:09 PM on November 4, 2012

We live in deer and moose country and the advice I usually live by is "Don't outdrive your headlights" basically meaning to drive slowly enough so that you could stop at the point at which you could see something in the road, if that makes sense. Part of this involves slowing down and part of this involves having good headlights, driving with high beams on if appropriate, etc. Deer are not very bright but moose just plain won't move and will destroy your car if you hit them, so I'm always super cautious in marked areas especially at the times when they are likely to be by the road [sunrise/sunset-ish]
posted by jessamyn at 4:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Drive more slowly at night, and pull over to let that idiot on your back bumper go by, because if you hit your brakes for a deer he'll rear-end you for sure.
Look for the deer's eyes--you can often see them glowing in your headlights just like a cat or raccoon's eyes, and it'll give you a chance to slow down.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:51 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, the only thing for it really is to slow down and use your high beams. Deer are stupid about cars.

In a defensive driving course I had to take for work, we were told NOT to slam on the brakes if you couldn't avoid hitting a deer. The reasoning is, when you brake hard, inertia causes the front of your car dip down, making it more likely for a deer you hit to slide up your hood and thru the windshield. Cars are engineered to take impact head on. I'm not sure I could resist the instinct to slam on the brakes, though.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 4:53 PM on November 4, 2012

Deer run :
during hunting season, for obvious reasons they're spooked. all day/night so note
along stream beds (dry ones make good trails); note those you cross during your regular drives*
an hour before dawn/ at dusk

*the shallow streams/runoffs that d/N require a bridge (rather a conduit under the roadway) are general animal pathways
posted by Twist at 4:56 PM on November 4, 2012

My parents use deer whistles. They live very near a hunt club's property, and I have definitely seen deer in the area. My view is the whistles don't hurt.

What I do in the area is be aware -dawn, dusk, at night, and when the hunters are out and about.

And yep, they do have glowing eyeballs.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:09 PM on November 4, 2012

Move the deer crossing signs!

Just kidding. I'm originally from rural deer country, and people who drove a lot in the dark ended up hitting deer. Drive less, drive more slowly, drive in the daytime when it's less likely you'll hit one.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:15 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

In a defensive driving course I had to take for work, we were told NOT to slam on the brakes if you couldn't avoid hitting a deer. The reasoning is, when you brake hard, inertia causes the front of your car dip down, making it more likely for a deer you hit to slide up your hood and thru the windshield.

I had exactly the opposite experience once. I was driving 45 miles an hour down a country road just before sunrise, and an adult deer ran out in front of my 3 week old Mazda Miata. I hit the brakes and hit the deer head on, dead (no pun intended) center with the Miata. The front of the car went under the deer, swept it off its feet, the deer slide up the hood, up the windshield, over the convertible top, off the back of the car and ran off. I was able to polish out the scratches on the hood with little trouble and found on small broken clamp on one of the headlight mounts. If I had hit that deer with my Jeep it would have destroyed the front end.

Bottom line.... it depends on the situation/car/speed/deer/etc.

But, it's worth saying again never, ever swerve to avoid them... hitting a tree on the side of the road is much more likely to kill you than hitting a deer.
posted by HuronBob at 5:25 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Driving slow isn't even much of a defense. I work on a military base where one may not hunt them, so they proliferate (especially in hunting season). One day a deer launched across my path and as mentioned above, I stopped expecting more to burst from the woods. Sure enough, a row of five or so deer quickly emerged, each one closer to me than the last. The last one actually ran headlong into the side of my stopped car. Technically, I've never hit a deer, but one has hit me.
posted by Lame_username at 3:08 AM on November 5, 2012

[Some comments deleted. As always, this isn't a place for general chatter about the topic; just answer the question, please. ]
posted by taz at 5:13 AM on November 5, 2012

For some reason my comment on going hunting for deer was deleted, but I still think it it totally appropriate. You want to learn how to avoid hitting deer with a car. If there are less deer your likely hood of hitting one will go down. It will be much more effective than the whistles on a car.

Another reason that you will be less likely to hit them is because your brain will be used to looking for the shape and pattern of a deer and you will see it significantly earlier than another person. I know I can spot deer out in fields at dusk much better than other people mostly because I was raised by someone who was always looking in fields for deer. Like lame username I've never hit a deer, but one once hit the back of my car when I was driving along towards camp in the woods.

A side benefit of hunting is that once you are geared up for hunting you'll never see a single deer again during hunting season. I swear they have a system of knowing who are the hunters and always staying about half a mile away from every hunter on the planet.

(note the last paragraph is hyperbole and not exactly true it just seems like you never see any deer during hunting season but see them all the time before and after I don't think there is a deer conspiracy)
posted by koolkat at 7:34 AM on November 5, 2012

One other item - When you slow down for a herd crossing the road, count to 10 before continuing on your way. More often than not, one will "double back" across the road again. That trick has saved me a good handful of times over the years in deer country.
posted by RogueTech at 8:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in the sticks and like @Lame_Username, I never hit a deer but after avoiding 5 or 6 deer the last deer ran into the side of my car. (My NEW TO ME *FIRST* car at age 16, the first weekend I got it!)

Now-a-days being older and wiser, I do whatever else says, drive slower and try to be more alert.

Also nthing where there is one deer, there are more.

When I slowdown/stop for a deer, I also lay on the horn a bit. LOOK AT ME DEER. I AM DANGEROUS HONK! Do not RUN INTO THE SIDE OF ME AGAIN! HONK HONK.

Big metal car may be out of their understanding or they may just be freaking out, but they seem to understand LOUD NOISE BAD-GO AROUND. I'll occasionally yell swear words out at the window at them.
posted by PlutoniumX at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2012

Know when mating season is for your local area (there are online maps for this). Deer lose what little good sense they have during the rut. They're more active and less cautious, so they tend to do dumb things like dart across busy roads.

I once had a deer hit my car. I mean that literally. I was driving down the highway and a deer ran smack dab into the side of my car. Naturally, it was mating season, and the offending deer was a male. Fortunately, there was no damage, and as far as I know the deer was unharmed (though I imagine it might have been a little dazed). The dog went crazy when I got home, though. She could still smell the scent of it on the car.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:08 PM on November 5, 2012

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