Friday, December 3, 2010

“Like a deer in the headlights!”

We sometimes talk about people who look, and act, blank – “like a deer in the headlights.” It turns out we sometimes look and act that way for much the same reason deer do: they’re temporarily dazed and don’t know what to do, and so they do nothing. (Recognize the feeling?) But for deer, doing nothing is a bad idea, especially with a moving vehicle coming at them . . . with headlights on. Why? In a recent NYTimes Q & A, this was the answer.

Deer are crepuscular, explains C. Claiborne Ray – they see best around sunset and sunrise. Therefore, their vision is best in very low light.

“When a headlight beam strikes eyes that are fully dilated to capture as much light as possible, deer cannot see at all, and they freeze until the eyes can adjust. They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing,” Ray reports.

Scary, isn’t it? Because he goes on to say that by human standards, deer are legally blind. They’re actually better adapted to detecting motion.

What to do about this headlight problem? Beyond “deer crossing” signs, articles to warn the public and defensive driving, no one has come up with a better way to avoid deer-car collisions – especially during the fall breeding season, when even more deer are on the move.

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