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Motorists get warning to watch out for deer

October 17, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

Washington County - Authorities are warning motorists to be on the lookout for deer because the animals are being drawn out of the woods for reasons including the weather and the start of hunting and mating seasons.

As a result of those factors, authorities say that October to December is by far the busiest season of the year for vehicle-deer collisions.

Spokespeople from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, AAA Mid-Atlantic, Maryland State Police in Hagerstown and the Washington County Sheriff's Department all said this is the most dangerous time of year for collisions involving deer.


Cpl. James Grimm of the Washington County Sheriff's Department said the peak season is just starting now, and the county will be one of the busier areas in the state.

"As the cold weather starts, they become much more active," Grimm said. "You'll see a pretty large increase in vehicle and deer accidents because we're still a pretty rural county."

According to DNR records, Washington County ranked third statewide for having the most deer reported killed by vehicles in 2001 and 2002. Last year, 135 of the 3,691 reports came from Washington County, records said. Only Montgomery County (2,162) and Howard County (923) had more reports.

Several people, including DNR spokeswoman Heather Lynch and AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Amanda Knittle, said reasons the amount rises include the start of deer mating and hunting seasons, increased deer activity during cold-weather months and the harvesting of farm crops. The result is an increase in damaged cars, dead deer and injured drivers.

Grimm said deputies have found the busiest time of day for the crashes is overnight and into the early morning hours because a driver's peripheral vision is drastically cut.

"You have to be extra careful and still, that doesn't always help," Grimm said. "Sometimes it happens in a split second."

Grimm said there are at least three deer crashes involving deputies per year. State police troopers have some of the same difficulties, according to First Sgt. Mike Hegedus of the Maryland State Police barrack in Hagerstown.

Hegedus said the most common areas for such incidents are interstate roads in the western portion of the county and any road where "there are a lot of farm fields" nearby. Hegedus said the best defense during this time of year is more careful driving.

"You just have to slow down," he said.

Another way Hegedus suggested reducing the likelihood of a crash is mounting deer whistles to the front of vehicles. A deer whistle sends off a noise only heard by deer, similar to a dog whistle, that is triggered by wind hitting the front of the car.

However, Knittle, based in Towson, Md., is not sold on such devices.

"I don't know much about them, but I think they sound kind of silly," Knittle said. "Maybe if I'd have had an accident with a deer, I'd have some of these things on my car. I think safe driving methods are a lot more reliable than a $39.99 device."

Knittle also said that drivers should not believe the danger of hitting a deer has lessened significantly just because the number of deer-vehicle collisions dropped last year. During 2001 in Maryland, the amount of crashes reported statewide was 4,229, with 320 reported in Washington County.

"I think, as drivers, we get complacent, especially on a nice day like today," Knittle said. "Drivers need to be on the alert. At any time, one can dart onto the road."

Another group that notices the increased deer-related crashes, and profits from it, are tow-truck companies. Some, but not all, local companies said there is a noticeable spike in business from October to December that is directly attributable to deer activity.

"It's kinda hard to plan on somebody having an accident, but I would say our business increases at least 20 percent because of them," said Wayne Durbin, a driver for Durbin Auto Service of Hagerstown. "I would say (crashes are most common on) rural roads that have a speed limit of 40 to 50 miles per hour."

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