Two separate nonfatal May 1 rollover crashes on I-90 near Cle Elum resulted from drivers veering to avoid elk, an evasive reaction that sometimes ends badly.
Your first thought might be, those were bad moves. We're taught, "don't veer for deer!"
But Trooper Brian Moore of the Washington State Patrol told me today that he and his peers are trained to react according to the size of the animal in the roadway.
"If it's taller than your hood, you're better off avoiding the animal," Moore said. "We've seen lots of fatalities in that I-90 corridor from drivers hitting elk that crash through the windshield.
"I realize, gauging an animal's size is a split-second decision," he said. "But I tell people if it's shorter than your hood, use straight-line braking. If it's taller than your hood, avoid the animal as best you can."
A quick online search shows the average white-tailed deer weighs 150 pounds, while elk average 750. Hitting an elk is almost like hitting a horse.
PEMCO has long advised that with deer, your safest option is to brake quickly but stay in your lane and maintain control. Insurance-claims history tells us that you're much more likely to wreck your car and risk injury or death if you swerve to avoid a deer, rather than hit it.
To that, Trooper Moore added, "for sure that also applies to swerving for cats and dogs."
In the early morning darkness May 1, a man driving a Freightliner two miles west of Cle Elum veered right to avoid a dead elk on the freeway. His wheels left the pavement, and when he overcorrected the truck swerved left and rolled onto its side in the median. The driver was unhurt.
Three minutes later, another nearby trucker driving westbound on I-90 struck an elk and knocked it into another lane, where a 1999 Mazda swerved to avoid it. The car flipped and landed upside down on the median, injuring its three occupants, who were taken to Kittitas Valley Healthcare in Ellensburg with non-life-threatening injuries.
Trooper Moore and the Washington State Patrol remind motorists that because of a few spring snowstorms, deer and elk remain in their winter range near I-90 and haven't yet migrated to the high country. Anticipate them, and drive cautiously.
six tips to help you avoid deer collisions. The short version might be:
Don't veer for deer!