Why you shouldn’t brake when a deer collision is inevitable: Roadshow

Q: Decades ago, when I took a defensive driving course at San Jose State, the instructor said if hitting a deer or other animal is inevitable, don’t brake at the last moment. If the car is in a nose-down position from braking, the animal will likely come through the windshield. If the nose is up, there is a chance the car will go over the beast.

Has that changed?

RG Smalley, San Jose 

A: No, it has not changed. Most folks recommend not hitting the brake if a collision is likely. They also recommend not swerving and — when driving in areas of dense deer population — having your brights on and slowing down.

Q: While living in the northern woods of New York where you see deer on or near the road all the time, my neighbor proffered this advice: brake hard just before you reach the deer, then release the brake an instant before impact. The front end will pop up on impact and a deer will be thrown up and over the car.

Jared Bernstein

A: If a collision is inevitable, plow through without hitting the brakes. It is intuitive to want to stop, but often at highway speeds, it cannot be done. Braking will dip the front end of the vehicle and increase the chances the deer will come up and through the windshield.

Various safety groups warn that if you stomp on the gas just before you hit the deer, inertia will pull the car’s nose up, and chances are much better that the car will go over the deer, as opposed to the deer going over the car.

Q: I beg to differ with your advice about not swerving to avoid a deer.

Two years ago, I was coming down Highway 17 near Lexington Reservoir at midnight when I startled two deer. I  swerved just enough so that the deer in my lane hit my car with a hoof and a loud bang as it bounded off. I didn’t have time to brake, and if I hadn’t swerved, I’m sure I would have killed it and significantly damaged my car.

I learned to drive in Wisconsin where you might encounter cows coming over a hill. When I was 17, I ran over and killed a mother opossum late at night and ended up flushing two live babies down the toilet as they wouldn’t have survived on their own. You never forget things like this.

Peter Ross, San Jose

A: I know. I vividly remember my dad hitting three farm dogs in a single collision in Wisconsin 60 years ago on the way to visit relatives. That remains a sad memory to this day.

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Author: Gary Richards