Situational Awareness

My wife may have saved both of our lives this morning, and she definitely saved our new car from serious damage.

We were carpooling to work, and I was driving, because, well, I do the driving.  Right after crossing Keystone Ave on 116th St. (my Indianapolis readers know where that is), I was looking out my window at the car next to me and only watching the road with my peripheral vision.  I knew there weren’t any cars in front of me, so I just sort of relaxed and enjoyed my coffee.

Which exactly when my wife said “Ahab, deer-deer-DEER!” which was accompanied by a rather odd hand gesture.  Now, a lot of people have said that “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training”.  I believe that, just from previous experiences in my life, and it was reinforced again today.  When Mrs. Ahab said my name in that tone of voice, I knew something was wrong and pulled my head back to the road, by the time she had finished the third “deer” I was already braking, and checking my mirrors to avoid getting rear-ended and possibly move into the left lane.

I got down to about 20 mph and the big doe jumped back into the woods off the side of the road.  The cars behind me weren’t close enough to pose a threat, which is good because the left lane wasn’t accessible to me.

The moral of the story is two-fold.  One, keep your eyes on the road.  It’s easy to get complacent when driving, especially if you drive the same route to work every day.  That’s when accidents happen.  We talk a lot about “staying aware” when we’re armed in public, it is just as important to stay away when you’re behind the wheel as it is when you’re behind the sights.

The second lesson is that since in a crisis situation you will default to your training, you had better make sure your training is good.  The worst thing I could have done with the deer would have been punching the brakes into a hard panic stop.

Situational awareness is key, in any situation whether it’s driving to work or crossing the street.  Like they say, you never see the one that gets you.


  1. That is something I definately do not miss. There’s nothing quite like driving home at night in the country, where it’s ACTUALLY dark, not city-dark.

  2. I disagree a bit. I teach my kids to never swerve to avoid an animal. Just hit the brakes and I’ll pay any damages. I’d rather they hit a deer than a tree or another car head on.

  3. I’ve had a couple of close calls with deer, plus one actual collision. My wife is a lot more aware of them than I am, a fact I chock up to her rural Iowa upbringing, where scanning for deer (or at least glowing eyes on the side of the road) becomes an ingrained habit really fast. Having been raised where the biggest thing I was concerned about hitting was a coyote, and living in fairly urban areas, I’ve never quite developed the same deer scan that she has.

    When we first got our Saturn Vue, I made fun of the metal grill on the front as being totally useless. After hitting a deer with it, and having said grill absorb pretty much all of the impact, it’s one of the best features on the vehicle.

    Our closest non-collision call? While on our way to Iowa a family of deer decided to cross I-90. There was just enough space between the doe and Bambi for me to slip through at 45mph, otherwise Bambi would have ended up tied to the roof. If you’ve gotta hit something, hit the smallest thing you can.

  4. Urbanized areas like Indy’s north side are getting to be the worst for deer since they can’t be hunted there. I’m glad I live way out in the country.

    I’ve only hit one once, last fall. It was a small doe, and it was delicious. The only damage to my van was a broken grill. I was coming up a small hill and there were 3 or 4 crossing the road, so I was slowing down already. She was very young and literally walked in front of my van. I waited 45 minutes for a conservation officer to come give me a tag for possession of it, then he let me shoot it with my .45.

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