Motorists urged to watch for deer

October 09, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Before Franklin County's white-tailed deer start mating this fall and before hunters take to the woods, the commonwealth is warning motorists to beware of deer.

Last year, 2,797 crashes statewide involved deer, resulting in 636 injuries and 11 fatalities, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission hopes that by educating residents, this year more people can stay out of harm's way and the way of deer.

Between July 2007 and July 2009, 2.4 million vehicles nationwide collided with deer, according to State Farm Insurance claim data.

With 7 percent more motorists on the road this year, the number of deer-related collisions rose as high as 54 percent in some states, according to a news release from State Farm.


To avoid hitting a deer, slow down and stay alert, particularly after sundown and before sunrise, said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe.

"The personal tragedies and property losses that are caused by deer-vehicle collisions touch the lives of Pennsylvanians statewide," he said. "It's an unfortunate and often painful consequence of living with white-tailed deer."

PennDOT reported that 46 percent of all deer collisions occur in October and November. In the past five years, more than 75 percent of collisions involving deer in Pennsylvania happened between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Nationally, State Farm estimates that one deer is hit every 26 seconds, with collisions more likely after Oct. 1, according to the release.

Roe credits the species preoccupation with finding a mate, a time commonly referred to as the "rut," for the increase in fall accidents.

Deer in rut move more than usual and often cross paths with humans, he said.

"It's a time, quite frankly, when deer don't seem to maintain the distance that typically keeps them from dangerously interacting with Pennsylvania motorists," he said.

Washington Township Police Sgt. Vernon Ashway said even the most cautious driver can hit a deer or be hit by a deer.

Heeding warning signs, using high beams and slowing down around curves can help drivers if deer are lingering near a road, Ashway said.

If a motorist hits a deer, Ashway said the police should always be called.

"The law still applies," he said. "But even if you are not injured and your car is drivable, you should still call the police."

Often, impact does not kill the deer, he said. Approaching or trying to move an injured deer could be dangerous or even fatal.

Because most deer-related accidents occur without witnesses, the more information available for insurance agents the better, said Dave Phillips, northeast zone public affairs specialist for State Farm.

Greencastle, Pa., State Farm Agent Ted Mercado said his office has seen the gamut of deer-loss claims and still offers free warning whistles that can be attached to vehicles. The whistles produce a noise that should alert deer to the oncoming vehicle, he said.

If a deer successfully crosses the road, trouble is not necessarily past, Roe said.

Deer frequently travel in groups, so where there is one deer, others may follow, often blindly, he said.

"It's a shame to see whitetails killed on highways in the weeks before our biggest deer season," Roe said. "Obviously many of these accidents are unavoidable because deer step into the path of fast-moving vehicles."

While Pennsylvania experienced many deer-related accidents last year, State Farm reported that West Virginia tops the list of states where a collision with a deer is most likely.

Based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, State Farm reported that the chances of striking a deer in West Virginia is 1 in 39.

Tips for avoiding deer-vehicle collisions

o Be aware of posted deer-crossing signs, which are placed in active deer-crossing areas.

o Approach turns and hills with caution, especially when it is dark.

o Deer generally travel in herds. If you see one, there is a strong possibility that others are nearby.

o Increase following distances between vehicles to reduce the risk of striking a vehicle that might slow down to avoid a deer

o Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road. If anything looks suspicious, slow down.

o Be aware of thick brush and vegetation along the road, as well as fields. Deer are often flushed out of fields in autumn. Deer tend to hide in thick brush and graze in vegetation for food.

o If a collision with a deer seems inevitable, attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or place you in the path of an oncoming vehicle.

o If you strike a deer, pull your vehicle as far off the road as possible and call the police.

o Do not attempt to find the deer or move an injured deer off the roadway. Doing so could cause you injury or prove fatal if the deer becomes agitated.

o Always wear your seat belt and turn your headlights on if your wipers are on, which is a law in Pennsylvania.

-- Sources: State Farm Insurance, Washington Township Police, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Game Commission

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