ANN ARBOR, Mich. — One morning in early June, Jim LaPointe was driving on the outskirts of this Michigan city when a deer bounded across the road in front of his Ford Fusion.
LaPointe braked and avoided hitting the doe, but was caught off-guard by what happened next.
“All of a sudden, I see this little blip dart out, and it’s a little one running after the mother,” LaPointe said. He slammed on the brakes and the youngster evidently scooted away. “I didn’t see any fur on the bumper, so I guess I didn’t hit him, but it was close.”
Automakers are working to give cars the capability of avoiding animals like deer.
Many carmakers are testing new radars, laser-based sensors, digital maps and software to recognize deer and take appropriate measures to avoid crashes. The animals present a challenge because the systems must be carefully calibrated to take into account important characteristics like their movement. Some automakers could start including the new technologies in models this year.
The goal is about more than saving deer.
Each year, American drivers are involved in more than 1 million collisions with deer, according to safety research and insurance industry statistics. Those crashes cause about 200 fatalities a year, thousands of injuries and more than $1 billion in property damage.
The problem is acute in states like Michigan, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where densely populated urban areas quickly give way to rural landscapes. In those settings, cars and deer are plentiful and they cross paths frequently, often when cars are traveling at 50 mph on winding and woodsy roads.
Volvo, the Swedish automaker, started equipping 2017 models, like its XC90 sport utility vehicle, with software that allows its forward-looking radar and cameras to identify deer entering or crossing a roadway.
“The radar detects if there’s an object, and the camera confirms it is a deer by comparing what it sees to thousands of images of large animals,” said Jim Nichols, a Volvo spokesman. “If there’s a match, it gives the driver a warning. If no action is taken, the car automatically slows or stops.”