Researchers with the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)’s Wildlife Service program have put in for a patent on a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent collisions with deer after dark.
Through a series of experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the WS program’s NWRC (National Wildlife Research Center) devised a rear-facing LED light bar to illuminate the vehicle’s front surface—and with it installed and activated (lower photos), the likelihood of dangerous deer/vehicle interactions dropped to 10%, compared to 35% with just the headlamps (upper photos).
DVN has previously reported on how vehicle headlamps tend to transfix deer so they freeze in place rather than running away from the path of an oncoming vehicle at night—and we’ve looked at countermeasures aimed at making animals more visible. But these researchers think their light bar actually reduces this freezing behaviour in deer. The study, entitled “Frontal Vehicle Illumination Via Rear-Facing Lighting Reduces Potential For Collisions With White-Tailed Deer”, is published in the July 2020 issue of the journal Ecosphere.
Lead author and former NWRC researcher Dr. Travis DeVault says “This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behaviour, also known as flight behaviour. 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 larger to the perceiving animal, helping the animal realise that the object is an approaching object versus one that is stationary.
In the United States and Canada, deer cause the majority of animal-related injurious and deadly road collisions. Many of the mitigation measures designed to reduce vehicle collisions with deer and other wildlife are road-based rather than vehicle-based. Road-based mitigation measures include devices and methods intended to influence animal behavior (e.g. roadside reflectors and mirrors, repellents, hazing) and driver behavior (e.g., warning signs, speed limits, animal detection systems), as well as vegetation management and highway lighting designed to increase visibility of wildlife to drivers, and wildlife population management. A vehicle-based system, such as the rear-facing LED light bar, advances efforts to reduce wildlife deaths and increase driver safety on roads.