About 5 miles north out of Weiser, Idaho, on Highway 95, is a little road called Devil’s Elbow.  It bends around Barton Reservoir, which sits close to the highway, making the highway a sidewalk for deer on their way to and from the watering hole.

It was on this slightly winding stretch of road, that a doe was casually nibbling on some roadside weeds.  When my son and his fiance’ drove around the curve  at 10 AM that particular Saturday, the deer panicked and jumped directly in front of their small sedan, despite the fact that there was plenty of open space on the other side.

With the body of the deer plastered against the windshield, my son was braking as hard as he could.  He was able to keep the car on the road and in the lane, which was fortunately straight at this point.  All he could see was deer fur looking like feathers splayed against the glass.

130 feet after impact, they came to a standstill.  A few people stopped to check on them.  The car wouldn’t start now.  With my son’s fiance’ at the wheel, a crew pushed it to the side of the road.  Fortunately, the 45° ditch was lined with cattails, because the brakes were no longer functioning.  The car ended up nose down into the ditch after a few more scary moments.

We have learned several things from this incident:

  • It is good to have trained your children to begin accident reports carefully stating the most important details, like “everyone is fine.”  Only, then may they proceed to other items like, “the car is probably totaled.”
  • If you see a deer on the side of the road, with plenty of open space around it, do not assume it will leap in the logical direction.  Slow down if you can and pass cautiously.  Deer are really just oversized rabbits with hooves.
  • Deciding to keep the car going straight was a good thing. The Washington county sheriff who arrived on the scene (and measured the skid marks) says that many people roll their cars when they swerve, either before or after hitting a deer.  Staying in your own lane also avoids involving other vehicles.
  • You don’t need to be able to actually see to drive in a straight line. Well, for 130 feet, anyway.
  • Sources say it can take up to 500 feet for an average vehicle to come to a stop when traveling 60 mph. My son’s car was slowed down some for the corner, and the force of the deer hitting may have slowed them some.
  • Don’t assume any part of the car is working after a collision, even if you just used it. The brakes had apparently given their all.
  • Towing trailers are available from places like Tate’s rents at a rate of $35/4 hours. This is a relatively cost effective way to get your vehicle back to town, especially if your future father-in-law owns a Suburban.
  • There was a new law passed in 2012 in Idaho that allows the harvesting of roadkill if it is reported within 24 hours and certain paperwork filled out within 72 hours. We didn’t know that at the time of the crash. The sheriff didn’t seem to be aware of it either.  There is a lot of information about the new rule on the Idaho Fish and Game website.  (clicking on their shield icon at the top of their pages always takes you to their home page.)
  • However, be cautious about approaching the animal. It might not be immobile or dead. One stray kick with a hoof or bite from a wild animal can be quite injurious.  There are better ways to get close to nature.

The friend they were driving to meet in Midvale says he knows one fellow who has hit deer 17 times in that area! If that were me, I would now own a large truck with a guard on it, such as many people in Alaska have to deal with moose on the road. I would also be driving the open highways at about 15 mph.   So, maybe I would just be staying around town…

The insurance adjuster said he sees a lot of car versus deer damage, so this was not a random incident. There are often bad outcomes for the passengers. Our car is headed for the salvage yard, and the deer died, but the only injuries to the kids is a stiff neck for my future daughter-in-law…and my son broke a fingernail. Hopefully, that will prove to be a short term issue.  If you have to drive with a deer on your windshield, it looks like my son did it well!

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