Oh Deer! Slow Down After Sundown to Avoid Accidents

Finnish study urges cautious driving during sundown hours to avoid collisions with deer and moose.

Autumn. The time of year when many of us drive around looking at the changing leaves while trying to avoid hitting the moose and deer that seem to be everywhere, foraging for food. The problem can be particularly pesky for truckers and other workers who spend many hours on the road.

Driving with increased caution and at slower speeds during the two hours after sunset may reduce drivers'' chances of hitting an animal on their way home, according to a new study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by a team of Finnish researchers.

The study, which examines car crashes involving moose and deer, was the first to control for variations both in traffic and sunset patterns in order to derive an accurate picture of peak crash periods that occur both at dusk and dawn. The researchers found that car collisions with moose and deer began to rise dramatically at the time of sunset, peaking at one hour after sunset.

At that peak period, the risk of collision reached levels approximately 30 to 80 times higher than seen throughout the daylight hours, say authors Hannu Haikonen, B.A., and Heikki Summala, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of Helsinki. There was a modest peak in collisions between cars and the animals at dawn, as well.

The researchers note that Finnish deer are the descendants of white-tails that were imported from America in 1934.

"For deer, dusk is a period of high activity and may be a stimulus to cross a road or to feed on the right-of-ways. For drivers, dusk is a period of low visibility," say researchers, adding "The result is an abrupt increase in the crash rate."

The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications funded the study.

by Sandy Smith

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