Deer can’t heed the signs, but you can

A deer crossing sign, that deer can't understand. Contributed photo.
A deer crossing sign — that deer can’t understand.
Contributed photo.
By Thomas Nelson,

Deer don’t understand deer crossing signs, but drivers can.

Living in the Midwest, most people either know someone who’s hit a deer or have hit one themselves.

The Iowa Department of Transportation recently put out a Facebook post saying that, “Deer can’t read signs. Drivers can. This sign isn’t intended to tell deer where to cross, it’s for drivers to be alert that deer have been in this area in the past.”

According to a post from the Iowa DOT, there have 3,344 animal-related vehicle accidents from Jan. 1 to  Oct. 23, with one fatality, and costing $14.69 million in property damage.

“When you see the deer signs, all that is telling you is that the habitat is right for those animals near the road,” said Floyd County Conservation Naturalist Heidi Reams. “A lot of times you are going to see deer in other places where the signs might not be up.”

There’s an old joke that the deer don’t know they’re supposed to cross there, Reams said.

“At this time of year the animals are particularly on the move,” she said. “They’re getting bumped out of the field by the combines as they’re harvesting.”

The upcoming mating season for deer will also have them on the move, Reams said.

“When you see one deer, you should assume that there’s going to be more following,” she said.

When driving at night, turning on a car’s brights won’t necessarily give you any more of a heads-up than if you have your lights on dim.

“You should just be extra vigilant,” Reams said. “Look for the eye shine that you can sometimes see when they’re standing in a ditch.”

There isn’t really a down time when there are significantly fewer animal accidents, she said.

“We happen to live in an area where it can happen anywhere, any time,” Reams said, “especially if you’re in a more rural area.”

If you see a deer on the road, don’t swerve.

“You just want to keep the path. Hopefully they will move out of your way,” Reams said. “If you try to avoid deer you may put yourself in the way of other vehicles or be more likely to end up in a dangerous situation yourself.”

Slowing down is an option.

“We’re all aware that if you see deer in a field during spring or summer, you know you’re going to see them there in the fall,” Reams said.