- Automotive Industry
Tech to Help Avoid Deer Collisions Can Save Human Lives Too
There has been a great deal of totally justified concern recently about the spike in traffic fatalities in 2020 and 2021. There is no simple answer to the question of why fatalities jumped by 10.5% in 2021 to the highest level since 2005. There are indeed many challenges that must be overcome with solutions being a mix of behavioral and technological changes. Tech will be especially important in dealing with one of the leading causes of crashes in the US, vehicles hitting deer.
Out of 6.5 million crashes annually on US roads, nearly one-quarter of those, about 1.5 million, involve deer. With a population of 30 million, the white-tailed deer is one of the most prevalent species of large wildlife in the US. An adult buck can weigh anywhere from 150 lbs to 300 lbs. That’s more than enough to do a lot of damage at highway speeds.
Deer collisions lead to about 175 to 200 fatalities a year and more than $1 billion in property damage. Deer carcasses are a common site on the edge of roads in many states including Michigan where an average of one in 54 drivers will hit a deer at some point.
There are no vehicle safety standards in the US governing crash avoidance technologies for wildlife. In Sweden, which has large populations of reindeer as well as moose and elk, vehicles are routinely subjected to the so-called moose test.
It is generally recommended not to swerve to avoid a deer because the risk of losing control is greater than the risk from the collision. However, moose can be as much as 7 feet tall at the shoulder and striking one can cause its body to land on the windshield with a much higher probability of vehicle occupant injury or death. As a result, the moose test measures a vehicle’s stability in an emergency evasive maneuver. In the late-1990s, the first generation Smart ForTwo and Mercedes-Benz A-class were found to be so unstable that Mercedes-Benz delayed the introduction of these two small cars to add standard electronic stability control. Within a decade, stability control had become standard on virtually every new vehicle sold in Europe and North America.
With most deer crashes occurring near dusk or dawn when visibility is severely diminished, a different type of technical solution is needed to address this problem. Sensors that can improve a driver’s situational awareness and be an input signal to automatic emergency braking systems would be very beneficial. Deer often emerge from wooded areas with little warning, so rapid and accurate detection of both position and speed is essential. Although vision systems are useful for object classification, they are generally of little use when something is moving suddenly and may blend into the background, especially during the fall hunting season when the leaves have fallen.
Active sensors such as imaging radar and lidar can provide much more accurate detection for this use case and work in low or no light. Infrared thermal imaging sensors would also be very beneficial in this use case to detect living targets, which might be either wildlife or humans.
Although deer collisions are extremely common and mostly fatal to the animal, incorporating these technologies to help avoid deer strikes could also have a positive impact on human deaths. More than 7,300 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in 2019, and that number jumped by 13% in 2021.