Motorists urged to watch for deer crossing roads, especially at dusk

November 7, 2013

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Division of Fish and Wildlife would like to remind them and all Delaware motorists to remain alert for deer crossing roadways.

“We might be heading home to relax at the end of our day, but deer are just beginning their busiest time around dusk,” said DNREC Game Mammal Biologist Joe Rogerson. “From dusk up to midnight and shortly before and after sunrise, are when motorists need to be especially alert and watch for them.”

The average white-tailed deer in Delaware weighs about 130 pounds, with larger bucks tipping the scales at 180 pounds or more. Hitting an animal that size can do serious and expensive damage to a vehicle. Such a collision may also cause injury to or trigger an accident involving other motorists.

In 2012, Delaware police departments logged a statewide total of 1,030 deer-vehicle crashes, which resulted in one fatality, 56 personal injuries and 973 property damage-only cases. For 2013 through September, 591 deer-related crashes have been reported, with no fatalities, 50 personal injuries and 541 property damage-only cases.

Many more crashes may have gone unreported to the police or were reported only to insurance companies. State Farm Insurance recently reported that motorists made 4,267 deer/vehicle collision insurance claims in Delaware between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.

Of the 41 states in which deer-vehicles collisions are most likely, Delaware ranks 27th this year in State Farm’s annual report, and is considered a medium-risk state with a 1 in 168 chance of a collision; nationally, the average is one in 174. Average property damage claims in deer-vehicle collisions run more than $3,000.

National statistics also show that about half or more of all deer-vehicle collisions occur during October, November and December, with most concentrated in October and November. In 2012 in Delaware, DelDOT removed 753 deer from the roadways - down 22.9 percent from 2011 - with October and November having the highest numbers of deer struck on the roadways.

“Fall is mating season for deer, and in Delaware this year, we’re expecting the mating ‘rut’ to begin in early November,” Rogerson said. “Because of this, deer are more active, with bucks single-mindedly pursuing does - sometimes right into the path of your car.”

“Although in the last six years Delaware’s deer population has finally stabilized and started to decrease, there are still numerous areas in the state that have significant deer populations,” added Rob Hossler, DNREC Species Research Program manager. “Combine a high deer population with decreasing deer habitat and increased commuters, and you have a recipe for a high number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

Attentive driving is the best way to avoid deer collisions.

Keep these tips in mind:

Turn headlights on at dawn and dusk and keep eyes on the road, scanning the sides of the road as well as what’s ahead. When there is no oncoming traffic, switch to high beams to better reflect the eyes of deer on or near the roadway. To reduce risk of injury in a collision, always wear a seatbelt.

• Be especially aware of any distractions that might take eyes off the road, even if only momentarily, such as cell phones, adjusting the radio, eating or passenger activities.

Watch for Deer Crossing signs that mark commonly-traveled areas, and be aware that deer typically cross between areas of cover, such as woods or where roads divide agricultural fields from woods.

• If seeing a deer crossing the road ahead, slow down immediately and proceed with caution until past the crossing point. Deer usually travel in groups, so if there one deer, there are likely to be others.

Slow down and blow the horn with one long blast to frighten deer away. Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer, as these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

Do not swerve to miss a deer - brake and stay in the lane. Losing control of the vehicle, crossing into another lane, hitting an oncoming vehicle or leaving the roadway and hitting another obstacle such as a tree or a pole is likely to be much more serious than hitting a deer.

If hitting a deer, stop at the scene, get the car off the road if possible and call police. Do not touch the animal or get too close.

“A frightened and wounded deer can cause serious injury to a well-meaning person trying to ‘help.’ You could be bitten, kicked or even gored by a buck’s antlers. It’s safer to keep your distance,” said Rogerson.

Anyone who would like to take possession of a deer killed on the road can obtain a vehicle-killed deer tag from the Delaware State Police or DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section.


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