Deer mating season: Drivers beware

The New York TimesNovember 6, 2013 

LOCAL wild art deer car KIRKHAM

A buck leaps across Mill Road in East Aurora as a passing motorist hits the brakes, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012.

ROBERT KIRKHAM — Buffalo News

It’s the deadliest time of the year for deer, which also pose a particular danger to motorists in autumn with the arrival of the mating and hunting seasons.

Nearly half of vehicle accidents involving white-tail deer occur from October to December, according to Chad Stewart, a deer research biologist at the Indiana State Division of Fish and Wildlife.

“With the number of deer and the number of vehicles out there, deer-vehicle accidents will happen,” Stewart said. “The best thing drivers can do is to take measures to keep them to a minimum.”

The confluence of mating and hunting seasons makes November the month with the most deer-vehicle collisions – about 18 percent of the annual total – according to State Farm.

In 2001-11, collisions with animals resulted in 2,083 fatal crashes nationwide, according to AAA’s examination of data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

State transportation officials in North Carolina report there were an average of 19,500 animal-related crashes from 2010 to 2012, 90 percent of which involved deer.

And while deer collisions tend to get the most attention, encounters with smaller animals like squirrels, raccoons and dogs also cause drivers to veer and crash, noted William Van Tassel, who leads AAA’s national driver training programs.

He recommends that drivers entering a roadway – especially from sunset to sunrise – scan the area continuously and play a “what-if game” a couple of times.

“What if a deer or animal runs out in front of me – what should I be doing?” Van Tassel said. This allows drivers to prime their brain, hands and feet, he said, “to do what they need to do, just in case.”

Among the driving tips offered by the Insurance Information Institute are these: be aware that deer tend to travel in groups; that they are most active in the evening, around 6 to 9 p.m.; and that they can be highly unpredictable, especially when caught in headlights, exposed to loud noises like horns or confused by fast-moving vehicles. The institute says drivers should not rely on devices like car-mounted deer whistles or roadside reflectors, which despite advertising claims have not proved effective at keeping deer out of a vehicle’s path.

In a recent study of fatal animal crashes, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 60 percent of the people who died were not wearing safety belts. “Most of the human deaths could be prevented if every driver buckled up and every motorcyclist wore a helmet,” said Russ Rader, the organization’s senior vice president for communications.

Recently, State Farm noted a 3.5 percent drop in deer collisions nationwide, to 1.22 million, for the one-year period ending on June 30, 2013. It said the odds of a driver striking a deer had declined by 4.3 percent from the period a year earlier.

However, State Farm said the average deer-collision damage claim in that period had risen 3.3 percent, to $3,414.

Using its own claims data and drivers’ license information, the insurer said in September that it had calculated the chances of a driver hitting a deer over the next 12 months to be 1 in 174, down from 1 in 167 in its estimate for the previous year.

Chris Mullen, director of strategic resources at State Farm, said that it was hard to pinpoint a single reason for the decline, but that factors like driver awareness, deer-crossing signs, fences and technology might have contributed.

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