By GEORGE ROBERTSON, M.D.Don’t you hate it when you hear that crunching thud noise under your car when you see a squirrel darting across the road in front of you? Driving in to work the other day, I saw a squirrel duck under the car at a fatal angle, and I braced for the vibration and noise. But when I didn’t hear it I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the wide-eyed animal celebrating his close call with death on the other side of the road. I still don’t know how my wheels missed him. Usually in a situation like that I would turn the steering wheel and try to miss whatever varmint might be in my path. Driving manuals don’t advise that behavior because it results in many wrecks and mishaps that are much worse then just going straight ahead and hitting the animal (unless you are a squirrel). Our reflexes are programmed in the opposite vane, however, and the impulse is strong to swerve. Swerving would be much more likely if the collision object were a dog instead of something personable, but your mind doesn’t have time to make the distinction. And it doesn’t matter that the dog may have barked all night keeping you up or that the squirrel may have chewed your electric wire in two, plunging you into the dark last night. Since I live in the country, I have frequent encounters with animals and have been trying to recondition my tendencies and just keep the steering wheel straight. The school is still out on what to do if it is a deer in your way. I would still try to miss a big animal and hope for the best, knowing the consequences firsthand of hitting one. The best strategy is to anticipate an encounter and drive slowly enough to give the animal a fighting chance, or in this case, a running chance. By giving him just a split second head start you might be able to avoid that awful sound and feeling like a serial killer. The extra minute you try to make up the road using excess speed won’t be appreciated nearly as much by the work crew as slowing down by the daredevil squirrel.Editor’s Note: George Robertson is a physician with Family Medical Associates, PC, in Lebanon.