Ways To Steer Clear Of Deer

By Scott Shalaway

NOVEMBER means many things to many people.

To hunters, it’s deer season–the highlight of the year. To the rest of the world, it’s the most dangerous time of year to drive because November is when deer-vehicle collisions peak.

If you’ve never hit a deer with your car, consider yourself lucky. But my insurance agent, Mark Crow, makes this observation about driving in rural West Virginia: “It’s not if you hit a deer, it’s when you hit one.”

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had two major collisions with deer, several minor bumps, and more close calls than I can remember. Two years ago I was on my way to a high school basketball game on a rural highway. I was traveling 45 mph when a deer jumped into the middle of the road, stopped, and stared at me–the proverbial deer in the headlights. Two weeks and nearly $3,000 later I had my car back.

My most memorable deer collision occurred just two miles from home. It was late and I knew deer were on the move, so I was vigilant and driving slowly. I noticed a deer ahead on the left side of the road, so I slowed down to a crawl. The deer was transfixed. As I passed it, the deer bolted right into the driver’s side door. It fell to the pavement, bounced back up and dashed into the woods. My car wasn’t scratched, and the deer seemed fine. But this time the deer had hit me.

The lesson is that deer along roadways are totally unpredictable. So the carnage continues. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur in the U.S. each year. These accidents cause more than $1 billion in vehicle damage, and tragically, about 150 people die in these collisons annually.

The average claim cost is $2,600. The Insurance Information Institute reports that when claims involving bodily injury are included, the average claim jumps to more than $11,000.

Wildlife agencies that have compiled data on deer road kills invariably report that deer-vehicle collisions peak in November. This coincides with the peak of the rut (deer mating season) and deer season. Bucks are chasing does with abandon; both sexes seem oblivious to traffic. And hunters disrupt the deer’s normal movement patterns, so there’s no telling where they’ll appear. The net result is that from mid-October to mid-December, deer can appear on highways anywhere and anytime. They are most active, however, from dusk until dawn.

So, be careful, and keep these tips in mind.

  1. Deer are everywhere. You’re as likely to encounter one on a city street as on a rural interstate.
  2. Deer behave unpredictably. When you see one up ahead, slow down and expect it to cross the road in front of you.
  3. Deer are social and often move in groups. If you see one cross the road, expect several more to follow.
  4. Be especially cautious between dusk and dawn.
  5. When there’s no oncoming traffic, use high beams. They will illuminate the eyes of deer on the side of the road.
  6. If you see a deer on the road ahead of you, brake firmly, but stay in your lane. If you swerve to avoid a 120-pound deer, you may hit an on-coming 3,000-pound vehicle or lose control of the car.
  7. Don’t rely on deer whistles; research has shown they have no effect on deer behavior.

If there are young, inexperienced drivers in the family, have them read this column.

That’s what individuals can do. State wildlife agencies and highway departments should pursue several promising techniques to reduce deer-vehicle crashes.

Keep roadsides clear of vegetation to make deer more visible and less likely to congregate near roads. This is labor intensive and expensive, but it makes common sense.

Seasonal deer crossing signs are more effective than permanent signs, which most drivers tend to ignore.

Signs that activate when deer get near a road may be the best solution. Infrared, radar, laser and radio beams can alert drivers only when deer are in the area.

So again, be careful. It’s a jungle out there. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette