Watch Out Bambi! New Lighting System Reduces Deer-Vehicle Collisions

Deer ( USDA/ARS )

Deer-vehicle collisions account for about 1 million accidents each year that kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

USDA Wildlife Services researchers recently applied for a patent for a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent deer-vehicle collisions during low-light condition, USDA said in a release on Wednesday.

During experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the Wildlife Services program’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) found the use of a rear-facing light-emitting diode (LED) light bar resulted in fewer dangerous deer-vehicle interactions. 

These images show the difference in the “looming” appearance of approaching vehicles equipped with headlights (top) versus headlights plus the new rear-facing LED light (bottom).

The light bar illuminates a larger portion of the vehicle’s front surface than standard headlights alone, USDA said. In fact, the likelihood of dangerous interactions decreased from 35% to only 10% of vehicle approaches when using a rear-facing light bar plus headlights versus just headlights alone. 

Researchers attribute this to reduced instances of “freezing” behavior by deer when the light bar was used. 

“This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behavior (also known as flight behavior),” lead author and former NWRC researcher Travis DeVault said in the release. “We predicted that light reflected from the front surface of the vehicle would provide a more reliable looming image to deer, thus encouraging the deer to move out of the path of the approaching vehicle.”

When an object “looms,” it becomes increasingly bigger to the perceiving animal, which helps the animal realize that the object is approaching and not stationary.

Most of the measures to reduce vehicle collisions with deer and other wildlife are road-based rather than vehicle-based, the release said.

“A vehicle-based system, such as the rear-facing LED light bar, advances efforts to reduce wildlife deaths and increase driver safety on roads,” USDA said in the release. “The patent-pending technology can be incorporated as an after-market device, like a brush guard or bumper, or can be embedded in the vehicle as part of the manufacturing process.”

The study “Frontal vehicle illumination via rear-facing lighting reduces potential for collisions with white-tailed deer” is featured in Ecosphere.

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