Animals are unpredictable and find their way onto roads year-round. It’s incredible that when hunting deer, the smallest movement or the sound of a sneeze is enough to send them in the opposite direction. However, the presence of cars speeding by and human activity on a highway or interstate seems to be more like a magnet. It’s counter intuitive, but hey, nobody ever accused deer and other large game of being “smart”. They lack the critical reasoning skills required to avoid danger, so when driving the onus is on us to be alert.
Big game hunting seasons open as early as August, but the real height of activity for hunters and animals peaks in October, November and December. More wildlife-vehicle collisions happen during this time frame than any other time of year. This is when the animals hit transitional phases and start to move. Factors like changing food sources, fall weather patterns, rutting behavior, hunter pressure and more, lead to an increase in animal activity. With that increase in activity comes a heightened chance of wildlife wandering onto roadways and potentially causing collisions.
The outcome of wildlife-vehicle collisions can be devastating. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year. Those collisions result in fatalities, injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. Those 1.5 million collisions only reflect deer related accidents and don’t take into account other large animals like elk, moose and caribou. The truth is, across the U.S., about one out of every 164 drivers will have an insurance claim for hitting a deer, elk or moose this year. Drivers in West Virginia, Montana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Michigan and North Dakota, have the highest likelihood of collisions. From coast to coast, drivers are at a higher risk during this three-month period.
Five Tips for Safe Driving
Nobody wants to be involved in a collision. I want y’all to be safe every time you hit the road, so here are some things to consider that can help you stay safe while traveling:
- Buckle Up: This should be a no brainer. The seat belt is hanging right next to your shoulder. Don’t be lazy! Seriously, all you have to do is pull it across your chest and click it in. It takes about 2 seconds, and it’s certainly not a tough thing to do. Seat belts save lives, period. I’m a stickler about this one. If you don’t wear a seatbelt, then you don’t get to ride in my vehicle. End of story.
- Undivided Attention: Being an attentive and alert driver at all times is crucial. Wildlife can appear in a split second either directly in the road, on the side of the road or jumping/running into your path. Distractions like phone calls and texts make you a less effective driver. Keeping your eyes on the road gives you a better chance of avoiding accidents.
Lucky for me, I really dislike talking on the phone and my sausage fingers make texting rather difficult, so phone distractions aren’t really an issue for me. My wife knows that when I put the phone in my pocket, 9 times out of 10 it somehow gets switched to airplane mode and doesn’t ring anyway. While unintentionally ignoring calls/texts from your wife probably isn’t highly advisable, in this case it works to my advantage safety wise and allows me to be a more attentive driver.
- Slow It Down: Dusk and dawn are the highest risk times of the day for wildlife vehicle collisions. If you’re traveling between 5:00 am and 9:00 am or 4:00 pm and 12:00 am, then you’re driving “right into the danger zone” and without Maverick or Goose riding shotgun, you should slow down a little so you can scan the roadsides and be prepared to react in the event an animal runs into your path.
- Beware of Multiples: Where there is one animal, there is a good chance that there are more. It’s like the clown that keeps pulling that endless scarf out of his sleeve, the second you think he’s done, out pours more. So, if you spot a deer or other big game animal as you drive, be prepared for the fact that others are, most likely, nearby.
- Reaction: If an animal happens to be in the roadway or jumps into your path, the way you react is crucial. Hit the brakes, give it your best attempt to slow down before impact. Swerving should be avoided. In the heat of the moment that can be difficult, the natural impulse of almost anyone is to duck or move out of the way when they see something coming straight at them. However, in a vehicle traveling at a decent rate of speed, swerving can lead to a catastrophic wreck. In most instances, it’s better to take a hit straight on, then to swerve and lose complete control.
I live in a rural setting, 20 miles from the nearest town where I travel both dirt roads and pavement to get where I’m going. On both the dirt and pavement, shoulders along the roads are virtually nonexistent and the ditches to each side are steep drop offs. Swerving on these roads would be a recipe for disaster, one that would no doubt lead to flipping and rolling a vehicle, quite possibly putting you in even more danger than you would have been by taking a direct hit from an animal. It’s important to think about how you would react in a possible wildlife-vehicle encounter. If heaven forbid it did happen, at least you would be somewhat mentally prepared to react.
Awesome Ranch Hand Accessories for Protection
“Our number one priority is that you, your family and your vehicle are protected from the unpredictable. You can ride in comfort knowing that you and your family are safe behind the strength of our steel bumpers and grille guards.” – Ranch Hand
In addition to attentive and defensive driving practices, if you drive a truck or SUV there is another layer of protection to consider - Grille Guards and Bumpers. I drive a 2017 Ford F-150 and the front is dressed up with a kick butt Ranch Hand Grille Guard. The Grille Guard is one fully welded piece of steel that is mounted to the frame in four different places and has punched grille inserts that match the pattern of my truck’s factory grille. They are built to the specs of different makes and models that way they each fit and install seamlessly based on the vehicle you have. It’s not a one size fits all approach where you’ll have to make modifications or weld this and that for a good fit.
Aside from looking tough and cool, the Ranch Hand Grille Guard forms a sturdy barricade between my truck and everything else in the outside world. When it comes to wildlife, there have been studies done that show Grille Guards can “prevent major structural damage” to your vehicle. How much they are able to prevent is obviously based on the quality of construction, but also the speed you were traveling on impact and how large the animal was. They provide more rigid support and protection where it counts on the front end. Putting out quality products is important to the Ranch Hand team. They spend a lot of time engineering and producing these accessories to be durable. Ultimately, when installed they are the first line of defense in a collision and personally it gives me added comfort every time my wife or I get behind the wheel, and certainly every time we buckle our kids in.
Aside from preventing large objects like animals from impacting your vehicle, a Grille Guard can also help to deflect grass, brush and small debris kicked up from the road or passing vehicles that could cause scratches and chips in your paint.
An even more robust option is a steel Ranch Hand Front Bumper. A lot of modern factory bumpers are made of plastic products, aluminum or fiberglass. The only problem with those products is that they don’t offer the same rugged, tough and sturdy protection that steel does. Ranch Hand Front Bumpers replace your existing factory bumper and offer added protection to the front end of your truck or SUV. Like the Grille Guards, Ranch Hand Front Bumpers are made to fit different makes and models and they are available in four options:
- Grille Guard Front Bumper
The Grille Guard plus Front Bumper is a good marriage. It’s a frame mounted one-piece welded bumper that gives you not only protection for your grille and headlights, but the beefed-up protection of the steel bumper that wraps around and shields the entire front end of your vehicle.
- Bullnose Front Bumper
The Bullnose Front Bumper has a steel body and bullnose pipe to create a solid center point of defense. This gives you all the protection of a Front Bumper without the wrap around Grille Guard.
- Winch Ready Front Bumper
The Winch Ready Front Bumper is designed to accommodate up to a 16,500 lb Warn winch. The bumpers are built from ¼-inch formed channel and offer a 2-inch receiver.
- Smooth Steel Front Bumper
Referenced by the name, this Smooth Steel Front Bumper uses smooth steel instead of diamond plate. You get the strength of 7-gauge smooth metal and a powerful bull bar which exudes ruggedness and durability, making you road ready and protected.
Statistics say that 90-percent of collisions with deer end up damaging the driver’s vehicle and almost 100-percent of collisions with larger animals cause extensive damage. Not only do you have to think about the cost of repairing your vehicle, but it’s also important to think about other costs that may come up as the result of a wildlife-vehicle collision. You could also have bank account busters like medical costs, towing, law enforcement services, carcass removal, disposal fees and even a charge for the monetary value of the animal depending on the location of the collision.
When considering the investment of purchasing and installing a Ranch Hand Grille Guard or Front Bumper, I think many of you would probably be interested to know that in 2017, the national insurance claim cost on average, in these kind of collisions, was $4,179. A Grille Guard or Front Bumper from Ranch Hand is significantly less than $4,000. Spending some money up front to protect yourself could end up saving you big time in the long run which logically makes the purchase of a Grille Guard or Front Bumper a cost effective and smart way to protect your vehicle, and more importantly, the passengers inside.
A lot of people perceive wildlife-vehicle encounters to be a rural issue, one that you’ll only encounter if you’re traveling the extensive network of back roads in this country. However, 89-percent of wildlife-vehicle collisions happen on two-lane roads, highways and interstates, where people live and commute daily. That means animal encounters aren’t just an issue for country folks, they are something that city dwellers need to think about, too.
Fun Fact: Can you guess which state is the safest state where roadways present the least amount of potential wildlife danger? Aloha, y’all. The odds in Hawaii are only 1 in 18,955. You’re probably more likely to see a mermaid on the beach than you are to hit an animal in Hawaii.
Drive Safe and Smart