To Avoid Hitting A Deer, Look For 'Eyeshine'
It's deer mating season. It's also deer hunting season and the fall harvest. That means deer are out and about. They're looking for love, safety and food -- especially at dusk and dawn.
Peggy Doty is an extension educator on the environmental and energy stewardship team for the University of Illinois Extension. When you are driving, she said to remember to slow down, give yourself extra space between vehicles, and, if it's dark, scan the road for eyeshine.
"There's a membrane in the eye right behind the retina in many animals -- not in humans -- and you'll notice a lot of the animals that do have eyeshine tend to me more nocturnal." She continued, "The little membrane acts like a mirror and bounces it [light] back."
Doty explained that not all animal eyes glow the same.
"Deer tend to have a green reflective," she said. "It has to do with chemicals in the membrane -- you know, different substances, supposedly, and there's varying amounts of pigments. I know for a fact that skunks have red eyes."
Doty said you can even see this eyeshine in spiders.
"If you shine a light in the summer in the wet grass, and you see a little itty bitty bright light, chances are it's the reflection from that little membrane of a spider," she said, "It's kind of a cool thing."
Doty said scanning for eyeshine increases your awareness of roadside animals and improves your chances of avoiding a collision.
"I drive, looking for any shine," she said. "Of course, then you see a reflective light on a poll and you're like 'Oh, it's nothing, right?' Some things are reflective from the Department of Transportation."
But having that increased awareness may help you avoid a collision. Doty has never hit a deer.
If you do hit a deer, Doty warned, "You're going to be frazzled." She said the best thing to do is "find a safe place to pull over and put your hazards on and regroup."
Doty said if you feel it's necessary, call the police for assistance, but if you don't, you still need to document the accident. And, no matter how curious you are, stay away from the animal.
"If it's unconscious and jumps up, and it's a full-size deer, you're talking about them possibly bouncing off of your body," she said. "It's best to stay away."
Furthermore, it is illegal for anyone except law enforcement to kill a crippled deer, so resist the urge to put it out of its misery.
Deer killed from a vehicle collision can be claimed by any Illinoisan. Call 217-782-6431 or visit deer.wildlifeillinois.org for more information about claiming road kill.
Accidents happen, but training your eye to scan for eyeshine is a big step in avoiding a collision. And if a deer should cross your path, don't swerve to avoid it. Swerving could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or increase the severity of the crash. Instead, try to "glance" your vehicle off the deer. This could save your life.
In 2019, there were more than 16,000 deer accidents in Illinois. Most occurred in Cook, Madison, Sangamon, Will, Fulton, Peoria, Kane, Rock Island, Jacksn and Bureau counties. 604 of the accidents caused personal injuries and four of the deer-vehicle crashes resulted in human fatalities.