It’s been a long, hot summer, and many of us are dreaming of driving north to peep at fall leaves and experience cooler temps. But road travel always brings hazards, and one of those hazards in our neck of the woods involves deer on the move. 

Fall and early winter are a time when Arizona’s big game are out: It’s both mating season and migration season for mule deer (the most common type in Arizona), white-tailed deer and elk. This is also the time of year when the most vehicle and big game collisions occur, according to AAA. 

These lightning fast, unpredictable animals can surprise you, resulting in a collision that causes serious damage to your vehicle, and cause you, your passengers, and the animals serious injury. 

Here are some tips for safe driving in the higher elevations this year. 

Don’t speed. 

Reaction time is everything when a deer, elk or other wild animal darts out into the road. Keep tabs on your speed and maintain a reasonable and lawful MPH so that you’re able to stop if needed. 

Watch for and heed signage. 

Those yellow, diamond-shaped signs with leaping deer on them aren’t just there to look cute. They mean that you’re entering a roadway that’s known for frequent deer crossings, so be especially vigilant when in these areas. 

Take extra care at dawn and at dusk. 

The early morning and late evening hours are when animals are most active. These are also times of day when it can be difficult to see where you’re going, thanks to the low sun and changing light conditions. 

Put away distractions. 

No cell phones, snacks, texting, and so on. Stay focused on the road to maximize yours and others’ safety. 

Shine your brights or high beams. 

Whenever it’s safe to do so, make sure to flip on your high beam headlights, which increase your viewing distance and can help you see further ahead. 

If you see one, watch for more. 

Deer and elk are herd animals. Often you may just see one, but there’s a strong likelihood that there are more nearby. Even if you observe one safely cross the road, keep your eye out for others. 

Keep an eye out for other animals, as well. 

If you’re driving up north and especially on fire and forest roads, chances are high that you’ll encounter a herd of cows on the move or grazing nearby. Give them a wide berth. Another animal you might spot? Wild horses. 

What should you do if you see a deer or elk? 

Here are three things you should do if you spot a deer or elk running into the road: 

First, don’t swerve. Swerving makes you lose control, and you could hit oncoming traffic, a tree, or end up unsafely off the road. Remember it this way: “Don’t veer if you see deer.”

Second, brake firmly, then release the brake just before impact. This action will reduce the risk of the animal coming through your windshield. 

Call for help. If you do hit a deer or other large animal, try to pull over to a safe place and call the authorities. If your vehicle is disabled, turn on your hazard lights and remain in the vehicle until you’re sure it is safe.

Stay away from the animal. An injured deer could be confused and may be a danger to you.