Deer in the headlights

Nov. 10, 2011
It’s the time of year when finding a deer in your headlights —literally — is more likely. In the last three months of each year the incidents of deer-related traffic accidents rise dramatically

It’s the time of year when finding a deer in your headlights —literally — is more likely. In the last three months of each year the incidents of deer-related traffic accidents rise dramatically. Late October through early December is deer mating season, which causes the animals to be more active and more likely to attempt to cross highways in search of mates. Statistics show that vehicle collisions with deer are higher in the last three months of the year than in the other nine months combined.

"The does are running around and the males are focused on finding female deer," according to Matt Tholen of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "This time of year, the deer are moving a lot more because of weather patterns, too. In the next couple of weeks it's going to be prime time for deer-involved crashes."

Some states are reporting higher than usual deer-vehicle crashes this year. The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports the number of motor vehicle crashes involving deer are on the rise. In 2011, there have been 300 incidents of vehicles striking deer reported to the Mansfield Post of the Highway Patrol; 69 were reported in the month of October alone.

And the consequences of deer tangling with traffic on the highway can be tragic. On October 27 seven people were killed when the mini-van they were traveling in struck a deer on Interstate 90, the Indiana Toll Road, near Bristol, Indiana. The van driver reportedly slowed or stopped after hitting the animal and was rear-ended by a semi truck that couldn’t stop in time. The trucker, a driver for Roehl Transport, wasn’t charged in the accident.

Deer-vehicle crashes (DVCs) in the United States are a “significant and increasing transportation safety problem,” according to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 1.5 million vehicle accidents with deer each year that kill more 200 Americans and result in more than $1 billion in vehicle damage.

State Farm Insurance has been studying DVCs involving the company’s clients since 2004. The insurer has found that the majority of accidents occur in October through November, with the highest incidence in November.

State farm also reports that West Virginia topped the list of states where a driver is most likely to run into a deer for the fifth year in a row in 2010. The other states in the top 10 in 2010 are Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

However, drivers should be alert to the increased chance of a deer encounter on the highway everywhere, especially for the next several weeks.

There are a number of precautions truckers can take to help prevent accidents with deer. To avoid vehicle-deer collisions, State Farm suggests drivers should:

  • Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These signs are placed in known active deer crossing areas.
  • Be aware that deer are most active during the evening, between 6 and 9 p.m. At night, use high-beam headlamps as much as possible to illuminate the sides of the road where deer can linger.
  • Be aware that deer often move in packs — if you see one deer, there is a good chance several more are just a few yards behind.
  • Do not rely on vehicle-mounted "deer whistles." Studies have shown deer are not affected by this deterrence method.
  • If a collision with a deer seems inevitable, it may be best not to swerve. The risk of personal injury is greatly increased by swerving, which can place you in the path of oncoming vehicles or may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
“While research has revealed several innovative ways to deter deer from entering the roadways and alerting drivers to the dangers of deer in the area, there will always remain a constant danger of deer-vehicle collisions,” said Melissa Miles, senior research analyst for State Farm. “Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid deer-vehicle collisions is through attentive driving behavior.”

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