HOWELL, NJ — The quick action of a Howell motorist to avoid serious injury after a deer crashed through her front windshield underscores the importance of staying alert while driving during the animal’s fall mating season.

Melissa Misthal, 36, of Howell was driving a 2004 Toyota RAV4 southbound on Route 9 near Bergerville Road on November 12 when her vehicle struck an “airborne” deer that ran into traffic, according to Howell police.

The force of the impact propelled the deer into her car’s passenger compartment, collapsing the front windshield and roof of the vehicle, police said. The dead deer came to rest on the rear floor. Misthal was treated for a minor injury.

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After the collision, Misthal “had the composure of bringing her vehicle to a safe stop in the shoulder of the roadway,” Howell police said on its Facebook page. “We praise the actions of Melissa. This had the potential of being deadly not only for her, but for other motorists as well. She did everything right."

With the fall mating season in full swing, deer become more active and are more likely to suddenly sprint onto roadways — an activity known as fall rut, which is more common in the very early morning or around sunset when visibility can be limited, according to the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Peak rutting season for deer in New Jersey runs from late October through mid-December, beginning earliest in northern regions. The following tips by the division can help motorists stay safe during the fall rut:

  • If you see a deer, slow down and pay attention to possible sudden movement. If the deer is in the road and doesn't move, don't go around it. Wait for the deer to pass and the road is clear. Do not try to maneuver around the deer.
  • Pay attention to "Deer Crossing" signs. Slow down when traveling through areas known to have a high concentration of deer so you will have ample time to stop if necessary.
  • If you are traveling after dark, use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic or vehicles ahead. High beams will be reflected by the eyes of deer on or near roads. If you see one deer, be on guard: others may be in the area. Deer typically move in family groups at this time of year and cross roads single-file.
  • Don't tailgate. Remember: The driver in front of you might have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a deer.
  • Always wear a seatbelt, as required by law. Drive at a safe and sensible speed, accounting for weather, available lighting, traffic, curves and other road conditions.
  • If a collision appears inevitable, do not swerve to avoid impact. The deer may counter-maneuver suddenly. Brake appropriately, but stay in your lane. Collisions are more likely to become fatal when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead collides with oncoming traffic or a fixed structure along the road.
  • Report any deer-vehicle collision to a local law enforcement agency immediately.
  • Obey the state's hands-free device law or, better yet, avoid any distractions by refraining from using cellular devices while driving.

Motorists are encouraged to inform the Department of Transportation of dead deer they find along the state highway system, and can make a report at:

Municipal and county governments are responsible for removal of dead deer from roads they maintain.