New Lighting System Helps Deer Avoid Vehicles at Night

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Contact: Gail Keirn

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) program recently applied for a patent (U.S. Patent Application No. 16/668,253) for a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent deer-vehicle collisions during low-light conditions.

Through a series of experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the WS program’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) found the use of a rear-facing light-emitting diode (LED) light bar‒which illuminates a larger portion of the vehicle’s front surface than standard headlights alone‒resulted in fewer dangerous deer-vehicle interactions. The likelihood of dangerous interactions decreased from 35% to only 10% of vehicle approaches when using a rear-facing light bar plus headlights versus just headlights alone. The reduction in dangerous interactions appeared to be driven by fewer instances of immobility or “freezing” behavior by deer when the light bar was used. The study “Frontal vehicle illumination via rear-facing lighting reduces potential for collisions with white-tailed deer” is highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Ecosphere.

“This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behavior (also known as flight behavior),” states lead author and former NWRC researcher Dr. Travis DeVault who currently serves as the associate director of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. “We predicted that light reflected from the front surface of the vehicle would provide a more reliable looming image to deer, thus encouraging the deer to move out of the path of the approaching vehicle.”

When an object “looms,” it becomes increasingly larger to the perceiving animal, helping the animal realize that the object is an approaching object versus one that is stationary.

In the United States and Canada, deer cause the majority of animal-related injurious and deadly road collisions. Many of the mitigation measures designed to reduce vehicle collisions with deer and other wildlife are road-based rather than vehicle-based. Road-based mitigation measures include devices and methods intended to influence animal behavior (e.g. roadside reflectors and mirrors, repellents, hazing) and driver behavior (e.g., warning signs, speed limits, animal detection systems), as well as vegetation management and highway lighting designed to increase visibility of wildlife to drivers, and wildlife population management. A vehicle-based system, such as the rear-facing LED light bar, advances efforts to reduce wildlife deaths and increase driver safety on roads.

The patent-pending technology can be incorporated as an after-market device, like a brush guard or bumper, or can be embedded in the vehicle as part of the manufacturing process.

USDA is currently seeking a licensing partner to build and market the technology. For more information, please contact NWRC’s Technology Transfer Program Manager

WS is a program with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Its mission is to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. The program’s efforts help people resolve wildlife damage to a wide variety of resources and to reduce threats to human health and safety. Funding for the WS program is a combination of federal appropriations and cooperator-provided funds.

The NWRC is the research unit of the WS program. It is the only Federal research organization devoted exclusively to resolving conflicts between people and wildlife through the development of effective, selective, and socially responsible methods, tools, and techniques.

deer lighting system for vehicles

These images show the difference in the “looming” appearance of approaching vehicles equipped with headlights (top) versus headlights plus the new rear-facing LED light (bottom).