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Oh Deer! – Driving Safely in Deer Country
In recent years, deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) have resulted in over 100 motorist deaths annually. Thousands of DVCs result in damage to vehicles and minor to moderate injury each year, costing vehicle owners and insurance companies millions of dollars each year. The escalating numbers of deer and resulting DVCs are due in part to successive mild winters in most parts of the United States, the rapid expansion of agricultural lands, and the increased road access to traditional deer habitat.
When driving through areas that deer inhabit, it is important to take precautions to avoid a collision and prevent injury and property damage. By knowing periods of deer activity, and their habits and habitat and what to do when you encounter deer on the road, you can avoid a dangerous situation.
Deer are on the move year-round, but their travels peak in spring and summer. You will encounter deer feeding in roadside ditches in spring, looking for freshly sprouted plants like forbs and grasses to help them recover from the long winter. Deer will also feed throughout the summer to prepare for mating in the fall and to build up reserves for the oncoming cold seasons. Be alert at these times of year for increased deer activity.
Deer are also most active in low-light hours. Morning and evening, while travelling to and from work, is when many people encounter deer. Night travel also frequently puts motorists in contact with deer, and with the reduced visibility, deer are harder to see.
Pay specific attention to the roadsides when driving through agricultural and forested areas; don’t rely on traditional deer crossing signs, as deer are found nearly everywhere. Deer will make split-second decisions to cross the road, and you must be able to react. In constricted areas like two-lane forest roads, you should be on the lookout for deer to avoid a DVC.
If you see one deer cross the road, expect others to be right behind it. Deer usually travel in small groups throughout most of the year. It is a good idea to use your high-beam headlights when possible to see deer in advance as you travel at night. Drive fully awake and alert, free from alcohol or medications which cause drowsiness and distractions such as cell phones – keep your focus on the road and the ditches alongside it. Drive slower than the speed limit if deer are present and adjust for fog, rain or snow.
When a DVC is unavoidable, do not swerve wildly away from the deer! Slow down as rapidly as possible by applying pressure to the brakes. In most cases, it is better to hit the deer and damage your vehicle than it is to swerve and leave the road or collide with traffic in the oncoming lane. Many fatalities and serious injuries resulting from DVCs happen when cars leave the road and roll over, or strike trees and other objects after the driver swerved and lost control.
Keep these facts in mind to prevent property damage, injury and even death, whenever your travels take you through deer country.
Thanks to N. Simonson
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