Like a deer caught in headlights.
It’s a phrase that humans have been saying as long — much longer, in fact — than I’ve been alive. But this idiom didn’t come from nowhere. Deer actually do get caught in headlights, even if the action (or perhaps, lack of action) is a product of their own doing.
Deer are crepuscular. What does that mean?
Deer are crepuscular creatures. Crepuscular is a funny word — it has a handful of definitions, but the one we’re interested in is below.
Because deer are crepuscular, their vision is adjusted for lower light. This means their eyes are dilated to take in as much of their scenery as possible during low-light times.
So when headlights come and hit them right in the face, they freeze — mostly because they have trouble seeing at all.
Are deer legally blind?
As it turns out, deer have difficulty seeing all the time — not just when bombarded by brights.
When compared to human standards of vision, deer are actually legally blind. According to research conducted by the University of Georgia, deer have a vision of 20/200. That means they can see something that’s 20 feet away as if it were 200 feet away. It’s also the same level of vision that makes a human legally blind.
When are deer most active?
In the fall breeding season, deer are most active at dawn and dusk — when people are likely to be using their headlights. Their activity also peaks around midnight.
Animal collisions are most common in autumn, and deer account for 67% of those collisions. In Iowa, drivers have a 1.7% chance of hitting a deer in their vehicle, and they rank only seventh on the list of states with the highest deer collision rates.
Pennsylvania, where I live, has the highest number of deer car accidents (115,000 deer collisions in 2013 totaling $400 million in damage) while West Virginia holds the highest risk per capita. In West Virginia, you have a 4.3% chance of hitting a deer while driving.
Smart safety is paving the way
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a car brake so fast when someone pulled out into oncoming traffic that the vehicle must have had automatic emergency braking. I can’t imagine any human having reflexes like that. When it comes to deer accidents, I’m hoping that driverless car technology will make a dent in those collision metrics (figuratively, of course).
In the meantime, be wary of those deer caught in headlights.