Is It Illegal To Hit a Deer And Drive Off?
When you hear the words “car accident,” you may assume the collision involved two vehicles. However, there’s another danger on the road: deer. According to the Michigan State Police, over 50,000 deer-related accidents happen each year. Even responsible drivers may hit a deer because of low lighting, poor weather conditions, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If you accidentally hit a deer, what should you do? Is it alright to drive off, or will you be in legal trouble? Here’s everything drivers should know before heading into deer country.
Can You Legally Drive Off After Hitting a Deer?
Any kind of accident can leave you shaken, and one involving a large animal can ruin your day. If your car is drivable, you may understandably want to continue on, especially if you have pressing business. However, most states require drivers to contact the police when they have a collision on public property. That makes sense if the accident involves another person or property, but does it apply to wildlife?
Like many traffic laws, it depends on the state. In Michigan, the laws are pretty straightforward, allowing drivers to deal with the issue quickly.
You Can Leave the Deer
If you hit a deer with your car, you can leave it behind. You’re not obligated to check if it’s alive or remove it from the road. In fact, state authorities recommend that you don’t go near it at all.
Even if a deer appears dead from a distance, it may still be alive and able to move. Approaching a wounded animal may scare it, prompting it to lash out. For deer, that means kicking with powerful hind legs, which can cause broken bones and lacerations. Even if the animals can’t move, you risk picking up ticks if you make contact. Deer ticks notoriously carry Lyme disease, which causes the following symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Erythema migrans rash
- Joint and muscle aches
You Must Report the Accident
The one caveat is that you absolutely must contact the authorities if you hit a deer. Even if you and your car are fine, the police need to know about the accident. For one thing, if the remains are in the middle of the road, a game warden needs to remove them to prevent future accidents. When you call the police to report a deer-vehicle collision, they will, in turn, reach out to the Department of Natural Resources to ensure the right people safely take care of the carcass. For another, a police report can help during the insurance claims process.
If you fail to report your accident, you may receive a citation. The state government tracks the number and severity of deer-vehicle collisions to determine the extent of the issue. This data helps related agencies allocate resources to keep the public informed and safe.
What Should You Do If You Hit a Deer?
Deer tend to leap onto the road unexpectedly, so you may only have a split second to react. Your first instinct might be to swerve, but that can actually cause a more serious accident. If you’re on a busy road, you may even injure other motorists.
Instead, authorities suggest that drivers hit the deer in a controlled way:
- Don’t attempt to avoid the deer.
- Apply your brakes.
- Lean on the horn.
Because of the “crumple zone” design of today’s vehicles, hitting an object head-on is safer than a side collision. While the deer may not survive, a head-on collision while braking is less likely to cause injury to yourself and your passengers.
Take Stock of the Situation
The moments after an accident are chaotic; your heart is racing from adrenaline, and you may have acted on instinct and need time to process what just happened. Even if you feel disoriented, call the authorities immediately — dispatchers have special training to get information during crises.
If you have passengers, make sure to relay that information. Dispatchers need to know about everyone in the vehicle to inform first responders correctly.
Motorists’ well-being is the top priority after an accident. Adrenaline can make it difficult to tell if you’ve been injured — since your body is in fight-or-flight mode, you may not feel pain until the adrenaline wears off. Report any obvious wounds to the dispatcher, and do your best to check for broken bones and lacerations.
If you experienced a major impact, stay in your vehicle until the paramedics arrive, so long as the vehicle is safe. Even if your car looks in good condition, don’t drive — there may be problems you don’t know about under the hood.
Document Vehicle Damage
Once the authorities arrive, you can start gathering information for your insurance. If there happen to be witnesses, get their contact information. This is especially important if other vehicles are involved in the accident. Make a note of their statements for future reference.
You should also take photos of the scene. You can use your phone to record the road conditions and the damage to your car.
What Happens If Another Vehicle Is Involved?
In some circumstances, a deer-vehicle collision can affect other motorists. If your vehicle goes out of control, you may hit another car or the driver may swerve to avoid you and hit a tree. Should this occur, you cannot leave the scene, even if you report hitting the deer. Under Michigan law, leaving the scene before the authorities arrive is a misdemeanor.
This law applies whether you’re on public or private property. The consequences can be severe, especially if the people in the other car sustain serious injuries or die as a result, in which case leaving the scene becomes a felony.
If you choose to leave the site of an accident, you may be subject to the following under Section 257.618 of the Michigan Vehicle Code:
- $100 fine
- 90 days in jail
However, there are rare instances where you can depart an accident scene without incurring these penalties. You’ll need to prove your case in court, preferably with the help of a lawyer.
The Michigan Vehicle Code states that motorists don’t have to stay at the site if “there is a reasonable and honest belief that remaining at the scene will result in further harm.” In other words, if you think other people or yourself will be in more danger if you stay than if you leave, then you can avoid citation. However, you must prove that your belief is both honest and reasonable, a task that may require an attorney.
“Reasonable” varies by circumstances, but the legal definition generally means that a rational person would find the actions appropriate. For example, if your cell phone didn’t have reception at the accident site, you may argue that it was reasonable to travel until you were able to call for help. However, if you had passengers with cell phones, and you didn’t check their reception, leaving may not be considered a reasonable action.
Have you hit a deer and find yourself struggling to get your insurance company to pay for repairs? If so, the Mike Morse Law Firm can help. We fight to get our clients every cent they deserve. To learn more, contact us at (855) 645-3946 or visit us online.