Top ten insights after vacation car crash

Wildlife collision teaches boomers a few lessons

Here’s the irony of our misadventure in South Dakota – it was the last day of our vacation and we decided to take an evening drive to hopefully spot some interesting wildlife.

One of our sightings occurred right between our headlights.

Other than lots of bugs and a couple of small birds, we’ve avoided wildlife collisions during our many travels. And then it happened, in a split second. We finished driving the popular Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, South Dakota. We toured until dusk, seeing bison, wild burros, coyote and pronghorn. We had just returned to the main highway; I was driving about 50 miles an hour, actually paying attention and looking ahead for deer near the road. Then, in a flash, a mule deer streaked across the road from left to right and bounded right between my headlights before I could even react. My vehicle’s grill launched the deer into a ravine.

deer collision car vacation what do
We were lucky the deer didn’t end up on top of our hood or under the vehicle.

No injuries – we’re incredibly grateful. But we were stranded, 1,667 miles from home.

Let’s fast-forward to the end of the story and $8,500 of damages later. We made it back home to North Carolina, where I still dream about the mule deer taking its last breath.

Like everyone at Wandering Rose Travels, I like sharing adventures – and misadventures – to help people plan their vacations and maybe pick up a few new tips about traveling. So in the spirit of sharing, I offer the following ten observations that I hope you never have to concern yourself with.

Our vehicle’s defensive driving technology may have saved us.
Our vehicle’s defensive driving technology may have saved us.

Photograph everything at scene. We were stunned, emotionally, and didn’t think clearly about what type of documentation we might need down the road. I should have photographed the deer, the car pieces scattered on the road and our vehicle’s location on the highway.

Immediately call your insurance carrier. They can advise you on next steps before you leave the scene. At a minimum, contact them while being towed or, if your vehicle is operational, while you’re returning to your hotel, lodge or campsite. They’ll instruct you on whether or not to call law enforcement.

Factor in time of year. Surprisingly, our car was still drivable. We thought about calling for emergency roadside assistance but, after attempting a quarter mile, we decided to drive back to our hotel. If we had been stranded, without cell service, in a remote area, in colder months, we could have put ourselves in danger. Even during a leisurely evening drive, pack your car accordingly. Footwear to walk for help? Hats and gloves for cold temps? Water?

Ask mechanics to photograph the damage. Our insurance company chose not to send out a claims investigator, but they gave me a list of photos they needed. Because I’m not very car savvy, I asked the local mechanics to take the pictures on my smart phone.

Document everything and save emails. I’ve referred back to a number of emails to hold people accountable. In addition, write down everyone’s name who provided you with advice, quotes and approvals.

While our SUV was being repaired, we rented a car and continued our vacation.
While our SUV was being repaired, we rented a car and continued our vacation.

Ask the insurance company to be “fair.” At one point during discussions about estimates, next steps, repairs and payments, the insurance company representative seemed uncertain about authorizing me to begin repairs and incur expenses. But we were a long way from home and anxious to return. I simply asked, “Will the company and you be fair?” A “yes” with conviction put me at ease.

Enjoy a cold drink and sleep the second night. That evening, I was too wound up to sleep, yet I tried to force some slumber. Instead, I should have poured a stiff drink, watched some TV or read a book. That would have been more productive.

Study your car’s defensive driving capabilities. Prior to this accident, I spent little time understanding my vehicle’s defensive driving technology. That night, though, it may have saved our lives. The car’s defensive systems braked before I could react and also corrected our skid to keep us between the painted lines on the highway. We were impressed.

Download the app and use it now! Most insurance companies offer an app for your phone. But don’t wait for an accident to become familiar with it. I first used this type of app to take video of all the contents of our home. And you can upload accident photos and information related to claims.

Start making alternative plans. We’re retired but we still have a busy life with places to be and things to do. After the accident, we quickly cleared our calendars, canceled hotels and investigated resources we’d need upon returning home.

Get over it and think “vacation.” By the next morning, we had already scheduled repairs that would make the car drivable so we could return to North Carolina. However, the mechanics estimated a total of four days for ordering parts and making repairs. Instead of lounging around and waiting, we decided to rent a vehicle and continue our vacation – a great side trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Based upon past experience with our insurance company, we had faith in the claims and repair process after our collision. That meant a lot. We also appreciated the impressive response of the local Honda dealer, who treated us like loyal, local customers even though we may never return.

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