Adventures in Squirrel Squishing

deer crossingMaybe ten years ago, around this time of year, I hit a deer with my car. First time in nearly 30 years of driving. Like MOST people, it was not intentional; it was dark, I was going around 45 MPH in a 45 zone, and this BLUR came from the left and jumped in front of my bumper. I struck it, and the poor deer went careening off to the side of the road, where it ran off apparently none the worse. My poor little truck was not so lucky. I limped home with an askew bumper, a dragging noise if I turned the wheel too far in one direction, and missing my passenger side headlight.

What makes this particularly memorable (besides being the first and only time I had struck a deer) was... just the week before my poor Favorite Husband likewise struck a deer for the first and only time in 30+ years of driving, and likewise had to put in a claim to get HIS car fixed. So despite feeling rather bad about the poor deer, I was sort of giggling to myself before I made the call to the insurance company to get my car fixed. Because really, what are the chances?

One thing that stood out for me, before I made that call, were the somewhat odd questions the insurance company kept asking my Favorite Husband as he recounted what had happened during HIS deer accident the week before. They were *particularly* concerned about whether or not he had swerved to avoid the animal, or if he had gone off the road FOR ANY REASON. In both of our cases, neither one of us had time to react; each time the deer quite literally leaped a foot in front of a relatively fast-moving vehicle. There is NO reaction time for that. We both *PASTED* our poor deer in probably the most horrifying way imaginable to Bambi fans. And luckily, though unbeknownst to us at the time, that is (unfortunately) what the insurance companies WANT you to do. They don't want to hear your tearful sobs of "I did everything I could to avoid poor little Fluffy". They would rather hear that you aimed for the animal and hit the gas while cackling like Snidley Whiplash.

Well, not quite, but close. With my husband the week before, the line of questioning by the insurance company was so odd along these lines I Googled it before calling them to see what the big deal was. Turns out, if you strike an animal in the middle of the road, it's a terrible mess, you feel bad, yadda yadda yadda, and that's the end of it. They shell out the money and fix your car, and you deal with your guilt as you will.

HOWEVER. If you swerve, if you lose control and go off the road, if you hit a mailbox or a tree or a house or another person while trying to avoid the animal, it ceases to be an oops-I-hit-a-deer case and becomes a moving violation. Because if you had to swerve, and/or you drive yourself off the road, you are not in control of your car, and hence you are At Fault. Which legally is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

I bring up all this unpleasantness because Stupid Deer Season is again upon us, and even though it's only happened once and I could do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it, I am still hyper aware of the potential now, and I pray the poor things stay far away from me when I am on the road. Because, c'mon, it ruins EVERYONE's day.

Squirrel crossingOne of the byproducts of this Googling hitting animals with your car is ye olde listicle on How To Avoid Hitting Animals With Your Car. Which is kinda moot when, I repeat, a suicidal deer decides to suddenly LEAP IN FRONT OF YOU, but otherwise just sort of silly common sense/high school physics lessons--watch out for said animals hanging out on the SIDE of the road, slow down if you see them, don't lose control of your car if you try to avoid them, and, ultimately, it will legally go better for you in court if you just hit that poor squirrel in cold blood than avoid him and consequently take out a school bus full of Brownies on their way to feed the homeless. Which, apparently, people have been known to do.

Right now in addition to it being Stupid Deer Season it is also Stupid Squirrel Season, and--unlike deer--every couple of years or so I end up hitting one of the poor little guys. And while my deer ran off apparently unscathed, squirrels are rarely that lucky. I don't think they weigh as much as a pound, and even a SOLID POUND of squirrel against a ton of steel does not usually go well for the wee thing. I feel terrible when it happens, but, ya know, I have to drive places with my car, squirrels have to leap in front of you for reasons I am unaware of, and Bad Things Sometimes Happen.

But during my insurance-company-questions-Googling-thing one of the many How-to-not-hit-animals-with-your-car listicles actually gave me new advice I had not heard before, so I tried it. And it goes against EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING, yet in the past ten years or so, I must say I have NEVER HIT A SQUIRREL SINCE. So while my sample is merely anecdotal and not scientifically valid, I offer it for others to try, to see if they get the same results.

For starters, the usual defensive driving rules apply: watch out for the little beggars on the side of the road, slow down if you see them, blah blah blah. And if one runs out in the road in front of you, do what you can to slow down without causing the person driving behind you to rearrange your rear bumper.

BUT--and this is the KEY--while bearing down on the poor defenseless creature in the road in front of you, DO NOT SWERVE. This is NOT because of the insurance company's thing about losing control of your car and hitting other things, although that's a valid point to make as well. No, you DO NOT SWERVE because if you swerve, you actually INCREASE your chances of hitting the wee beastie.

The theory goes like this: unlike your car, which is a huge monster of steel on fixed axles, a wee squirrel is HIGHLY MANEUVERABLE. As you--giant firey steed of DEATH--bear down on him, he's going through the usual squirrelly indecision of going "what the--, what the--, what the!--" while feinting first in one direction, then the other. It's what prey animals do when they run. Because they are MORE MANEUVERABLE than their much larger predators, who cannot turn as fast as they can. They survive by dodging and weaving, instead of running in a straight line.

So the squirrel, this whole time, sees your car, sees the wheel, and he is preparing to dodge at the last minute. IT'S WHAT THEY DO. So he's going to go one way or the other to not get hit. These little guys can TURN ON A DIME, you know. And if you suddenly SWERVE to not hit him, you now have a fifty/fifty chance of swerving right into his planned escape route.

So the TRICK to not hitting squirrels is to NOT MAKE ANY ATTEMPT TO AVOID THEM. Do not move your steering wheel--NOT A SPECK. You can slow down so long as it's safe, but otherwise you must KEEP AIMING at the little critter with NOT THE SLIGHTEST ATTEMPT TO AVOID HIM.

This is really horrifying in practice for us sensitive, caring types. The first dozen or so times I tried this after I read this, I was literally screaming at the squirrel as I aimed right at him. I'm still not entirely confident that they are going to jump out of the way, and I am still waiting for that one idiot squirrel who is just going to STAND THERE AND GET HIT. But it's been TEN YEARS now, and I have NOT hit another squirrel. Even though it appears to the casual observer that I am now actively trying to do so. And out here in the sticks, we have a LOT of squirrels.

Just the other weekend I was driving around with the Favorite Husband, the typical Squirrel Scenario came up, and (since I had told him about this when I first read about this technique eons ago) we got to talking. We both said we had yet to hit another squirrel since adopting this keep-driving-straight-and-try-to-hit-them technique. So now we have TWO anecdotal testimonies to that effect.

So give it a try. It's really, REALLY NERVE-WRACKING. (If you care about not hitting squirrels, that is.) But it's been a LONG TIME since I've hit one. So next time, go ahead and AIM AT THE SQUIRREL. Trust me.