A blog post

Drivers: Beware of Deer

Deer Crossing Warning Sign - W11-3Drivers need to be extra cautious when driving in certain areas as the majority of collisions between motor vehicles and deer occur in October and November especially in Nebraska. There are a few reasons for this. First, these are the months that prime harvesting months and crop and cover patters change quickly. In addition, there is less daylight as the days get shorter and it is harder to see the deer. Moreover, deer breeding typically begins in October, which can cause deer to be distracted. Deer activity increases and movement peaks each day near dawn and just after dusk.

DEER ACCIDENT STATISTICS

State Farm Insurance Company released a report regarding vehicle-deer collisions. Some interesting statistics from the Report are:

  • There were approximately 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. This is nine percent (9%) less than three years ago and 7% fewer than one year ago.
  • Calculated the chance of a motorist in certain states will strike a deer over the next 12 months (these are the top 6 in terms of most likely to have a collision):

West Virginia: 1 in 53
Iowa: 1 in 77
South Dakota: 1 in 81
Pennsylvania: 1 in 86
Michigan: 1 in 90

  • The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is Hawaii (1 in 6,267).

State Farm’s report is available here.

According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, in Nebraska for 2010 there were:

  • 3,497 reported animal-vehicle crashes
  • 3,260 property damage animal-vehicle crashes
  • 279 injuries caused by animal-vehicle crashes
  • 2 fatalities due to a deer-vehicle crash

In addition, the top 10 Nebraska counties for reported deer-vehicle collisions in 2010 were:

  • Lancaster: 230
  • Douglas: 129
  • Sarpy: 124
  • Washington: 124
  • Lincoln: 121
  • Jefferson: 111
  • Scottsbluff: 111
  • Gage: 104
  • Cass: 101
  • Seward: 99

These statistics are all low as they are only for reported collisions. It is unknown how many actual collisions occurred in 2010. (Source: Nebraska Office of Highway Safety: Animal-Involved Vehicle Crashes – 2010)

AVOIDING OR MINIMIZING DEER-VEHICLE COLLISIONS

Platte River Deer Fence

In an effort to reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions, Nebraska is nearing completion on its first fence along a major roadway, Interstate 80, between the Mahoney State Park interchange and Pflug Road. This section of the interstate has the highest number of reported vehicle-deer collisions in the state. The fence, costing approximately $1.1 million, is 8-feet-tall and will be electrified on the east side of the Platte River. The Nebraska Department of Roads hopes that the fence will prevent deer from entering this stretch of Interstate 80 by redirecting the deer to one of several undercrossings built beneath the Platte River bridge.

Deer Whistles and Other Sound Devices

A 2007 study from the University of Georgia, Evaluation Of Sound As A Deterrent For Reducing Deer-Vehicle Collisions, found that deer whistles and similar devices are not effective in causing deer to leave the roadway or run from the sound. In fact, one of the sounds tested, 280 hertz, actually caused deer to be more likely to move in front of the vehicle. The author concluded:

Based on the lack of behavioral responses of deer to any of the sound treatments, deer confronted with a vehicle and additional stimuli from auditory deterrents may: 1) have too little time to react as desired, 2) lack the neurological ability to process the alarm information efficiently to respond as desired, or 3) may not recognize the sounds I tested as threatening. Considering the challenges of producing sound at appropriate intensities and distances from a moving vehicle, deer hearing capabilities, human safety concerns, and my observed lack of behavioral responses of deer to sound treatments, auditory deterrents appear to lack applicability for prevention of deer-vehicle collisions.

The study may be viewed here.

Suggestions and Tips

The following are useful suggestions and tips to drivers to help avoid or minimize collisions with deer:

  • Anticipate the possibility of a deer unexpectedly crossing in front of you and plan ahead to avoid swerving, turning or braking the vehicle too sharply or suddenly if a deer suddenly appears.
  • Be extra cautious if driving at dawn and dusk, when deer are most active and visibility is poor.
  • Deer will often follow one another single file across a road. If you see one or more crossing the road, be prepared to stop as there may be others waiting to cross.
  • Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer.
  • Expect more deer near deer crossing signs as these signs are placed in areas where deer are likely to cross or enter the roadway. However, the absence of a sign does not mean a deer will not unexpectedly appear.
  • Honk your horn and flash your headlights to try and frighten deer away from the side of the road.
  • If a deer is in the roadway remove your foot from the accelerator first, check your mirrors, and then brake firmly, but stay in your lane.
  • If there is other traffic on the road, you can activate your emergency flashers and tap your brakes to alert other drivers to the potential danger.
  • If you see a deer on or near the roadway be prepared: deer often seem to be disoriented or confused by headlights and dome react by freezing in the light, some dart into the path of the vehicle, others bolt away in the opposite direction.
  • Pay particular attention and reduce your speed when driving near shelterbelts, woodlots, creeks, or where crops are still standing.
  • When looking for deer, scan the roadsides for deer “eyeshine” (reflection of headlights in a deer’s eyes).

Some other suggestions, which should be followed by every driver in every situation, include:

  • Search and scan the roadway and roadside ahead.
  • Keep your windshield clean.
  • Buckle your seatbelt.
  • Stay sober.
  • Keep your headlights properly adjusted.
  • Drive defensively, which includes being able to quickly slow down or brake suddenly or turn down blinding headlights.
  • Drive so that you are able to stop within the space of your headlights.

Inevitable Collisions

If a vehicle-deer collision is inevitable, analysis of vehicle-deer collisions have shown that deaths to vehicle occupants rarely occurred from contact with a deer. Statistics have shown that death is more common as a result of driver evasive action causing the vehicle to leave the roadway.

If a collision is unavoidable, try to skim rather than fully impact the deer. In addition, brake firmly, angle the vehicle and take your foot off the brake as you impact. The release of the brake may cause a slight lifting of your vehicle, which may be enough to stop the animal from rising into your windshield if your vehicle is tall enough.

Lapin Law Offices urges Nebraska drivers to stay safe this time of year.

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Jeffrey Lapin

Lawyer, Founder and Owner at Lapin Law Offices
I am a trial lawyer and the Founder and Owner of Lapin Law Offices. I represent injured, abused and disabled clients with caring, passion and dedication in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska.

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