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Drivers warned to watch for deer

November 18, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - The annual fall phenomenon of amorous deer running into traffic is beginning and drivers in the Tri-State area need to be on the alert.

Maryland not only has a high vehicle density but a large deer population. That combination can be deadly - almost always for the deer and many times for the motorists, police and highway officials say.

Myra Wieman, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic region, said peak activity is in November but can continue into December. By far, the most dangerous times of day are early morning and early evening - peak commuting times.

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"We haven't seen a big increase in deer-related accidents yet," said Sgt. Travers Ruppert of the Washington County Sheriff's Department. But he said the combination of deer intent on mating or searching for food is compounded by hunters flushing the animals out of their hiding places, which makes them dart into roadways.

Last year there were 4,229 deer/vehicular crashes reported in Maryland with repair bills topping $8 million, Wieman said. But she added that difficulty tracking such incidents means that the number of crashes is probably underreported.

Tracking carcasses is especially hard since many deer hit by vehicles go into the woods either to heal or to die. Only about 25 percent are found dead on or near the road.

Many times such collisions aren't even reported.

A spokesman at the Maryland State Police barrack in Hagerstown said so far, the number of deer-related crashes is running about average for this time of year. But he hastened to add that the mating season is just getting under way.

Ruppert said he is a firm believer in "deer whistles," devices affixed to the front of vehicles that emit a sound that only animals can hear.

"We used to put them on all the cruisers and the number of collisions went down that first year," Ruppert said. Then the numbers started to go up again.

The problem is that bugs, dirt and other things can get into the whistles and clog them, curtailing the sound, Ruppert said. Therefore, they must be replaced regularly.

"The best advice I can give to drivers is to drive slowly," Ruppert said.

And AAA also believes in that approach too, saying that if a driver encounters a deer and a collision is unavoidable, the best thing to do is slow down, then let off the brake just before impact.

Wieman said that motion causes the front end of the vehicle to rise up at the last moment, increasing the likelihood that the deer will pass underneath the vehicle instead of being launched into the windshield.

Other tips from AAA include:

  • Look for animal crossing signs and heighten your attention in those areas.

  • Remember prior deer sightings - deer are creatures of habit.

  • Honk your horn but don't flash your lights.

  • Don't try to move a deer if you hit one because an injured deer could panic and seriously injure you.

  • Don't swerve because more serious damage and injury could result from hitting another vehicle or a fixed object.

  • Always wear seat belts.
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