Irecently carried a letter from a distraught lady who felt she had no other choice than to run over a turkey on an interstate highway (Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 18, "Animal on the Road, a No-Win Situation.") I assured her that was better than suddenly swerving and losing control, or causing an accident.
Here are responses from others who offer experiences with animals in the road:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In 1972, I was a rookie Virginia State Police officer. The first fatality that I worked was a man who was teaching his teenage son how to drive. A duck from a nearby pond walked out onto the two-lane highway.
The teenager swerved to avoid the duck and went into the other lane, where his vehicle was struck in the passenger side by an oncoming vehicle. The father was killed.
I think it is best to limit your evasive actions in these situations.
When I was growing up decades ago, there were no leash laws. Dogs ran free. I rode with my father through a suburban neighborhood where children on a front lawn to the left lost control of a ball and began to chase it into the street. At the same time, a dog on the right side was drawn by the activity.
The children hesitated near the road, but the dog did not. My father did apply the brakes but did little to change his path. He had no guilt telling the owner of the dog how he chose which side to protect. The dog died instantly.
Also, I recall in Reston some years ago a motorist swerved to avoid a squirrel. The driver lost control of his car and crashed on the opposite side of the road into a pedestrian, who was killed.
Both stories enforce the concept that your daughter did right in not swerving to miss an animal.
I lived for years in western New York, where booming housing developments and a healthy deer herd resulted in more than 500 deer-car collisions annually. It was the custom there to slow down and turn on the emergency flashers when a deer was sighted by the side of the road.
Thus, drivers in both directions were alerted that they should be prepared to slow down, or stop. We all knew a single deer sighted could mean an entire herd poised to cross the road within seconds.
I like the use of flashers on rural, two-lane, forested roads as a universal signal of wildlife ahead.
I was driving the speed limit on a road when two dogs ran directly in front of me.
I immediately braked to avoid them, causing my car to swerve off the highway, into a ditch, up a small hill, sideswiping a tree. That in turn caused my car to flip over at least three times that I remember. Thank God I was wearing a seat belt.
And, to add to my misery, I hit one of the dogs, killing him.
Lessons learned: Don't slam on your brakes. A vehicle following you could hit you or you could swerve into oncoming traffic or off the road. And people who own pets should keep them behind fences, in a house or tethered. I later found out the owner of the dog had five other dogs killed in the same place, in the same way.
Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about a flock of geese or turkeys. As you say, if you try to stop on the highway to avoid an obstacle that the drivers behind you can't see, you'll probably cause a pileup.
Try to be consoled by the facts that neither species is in danger of extinction and that the individuals who find safer routes will pass on their higher IQ genes to their descendants.
Slow down when driving through wooded areas and fields, glancing frequently into the habitat on both sides of the road, anticipating having to brake.
For emergency situations that involve quick braking, Friends of Animals has a helpful bumper sticker that reads, "WARNING -- I BRAKE FOR ANIMALS."
It's available for $2 at the Friends of Animals online bookstore, at www.friendsofanimals.org.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxes to 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.