Reverse-facing Lightbar Helps Reduce Deer Vehicle Accidents

A Ford F250 pickup truck was used for 60 km/h approaches toward white‐tailed deer at night. An LED light bar was attached to a brush guard on the front of the vehicle and aimed rearwards, illuminating the vehicle’s frontal surface. Images show the light bar off (top) and on (bottom) in evening/low‐light (left) and nighttime/very low‐light (right) conditions. The vehicle’s high‐beam headlights are on in all images.

Many areas within the whitetail’s range have abundant deer herds.  As amazing as whitetails are, they can unfortunately cause damage to forests, agricultural crops, landscaping and especially to vehicles.  State Farm Insurance estimates drivers had over 1.9 million deer vehicle accidents (DVAs) from 2018-19.  My home state of Pennsylvania routinely leads the nation in DVAs, and State Farm estimates drivers hit a deer for every 1.8 miles of Keystone State roads.  With the average cost of repairs at over $4,300 per accident, and the loss of human life in some accidents, there is major incentive to reduce the number of DVAs, and that’s where wildlife researchers enter the scene.   

The most recent study in this arena comes from the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center, and involves increasing the amount of light on a vehicle.  Travis DeVault, Thomas Seamans and Bradley Blackwell’s research involved taking a light bar and mounting it on a truck’s grill guard, but instead of it facing away they aimed it at the truck’s grill (see photo).  This allowed a larger portion of the truck to be illuminated in hopes of making deer move away from the vehicle as it approached.

Did it work?  The researchers say yes and reported the likelihood of hitting a deer decreased from 35% (truck with headlights only) to 10% (truck with headlights and rear-facing light bar).  The reduction was driven by fewer instances of deer “freezing” as the vehicle approached.  The more illuminated truck caused some deer to move farther away from the road and others to cross the road.  However, those that crossed did so when the truck was more than 50 yards away and thus did not increase the risk of collision.

The University of Georgia Deer Lab has conducted several research projects related to reducing DVAs.  The Deer Lab has tested the effects of roadside reflectors, a wide range of sounds, and multiple fence designs.  These studies have greatly aided our knowledge and have undoubtedly prevented DVAs and saved human lives.  UGA’s Dr. Gino D’Angelo offers drivers excellent advice as we approach fall and the most dangerous time of year for DVAs.

  • Do NOT swerve. Unfortunately, many motorists lose control when they swerve to miss a deer.  Vehicles are built to withstand hitting deer but not trees.
  • Slow down. Deer are most active at dawn and dusk, and we can reduce the likelihood of a DVA by reducing our speed during these times.
  • Shoot a deer.  Population control is our best protection as overabundant deer herds greatly increase the risk of DVAs.
  • Clear roadways. Clearing roadways for better visibility is key to reducing DVAs.

The last bullet meshes perfectly with the recent research.  The more opportunity drivers and deer have to see each other, the higher the likelihood of avoiding a collision.  Here’s to a great fall, and I hope all your venison comes from an arrow, ball or bullet rather than a grill, hood or bumper.

About Kip Adams

Kip Adams of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, is a certified wildlife biologist and QDMA's Director of Conservation. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a master's in wildlife from the University of New Hampshire. He's also a certified taxidermist. Before joining QDMA, Kip was the deer and bear biologist for the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. Kip and his wife Amy have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Bo.