It’s that time of year when motor vehicle accidents involving hitting deer start to spike — an annual trend that will continue into December. In fact, nationwide drivers have a 1 in 169 chance of hitting a deer this year. In Michigan, those odds increase to 1 in 97. In Sen. Darwin Booher’s district, the odds are 1 in 60. In Booher’s car? Well, the odds are a bit greater.
Booher has hit nearly a dozen deer since being first elected to the Legislature in 2004.
“I am just lucky I guess, or is that unlucky?” Booher jokes. “I have totaled five vehicles hitting deer since joining the Legislature and wrecked three others. The average I had to pay to fix my cars that were not totaled was around $3,800. Now, I just buy used cars that are dependable, but not all that pretty. I like big Mercurys. They hold up pretty good. That way, if I hit another deer, it won’t be so expensive.”
Along with firearm deer hunting season, the season of deer-car crashes has also begun. And the 12-county 35th Senate District is a prime location for a deer-car collision.
“I tell people that even through I’ve hit 11 deer, I’ve missed dozens more,” said Booher. “Especially around this time of year, when bucks are breeding, they will just walk right out in front of you like they don’t have a care in the world.
“I have had some pretty bad accidents, but one was really bad — setting off both air bags and almost causing me to go off the side of a bridge. There was literally nothing left of that deer. I can tell you someone was watching out for me that day.”
October and November historically have the highest number of car-deer crashes in Michigan. For all of 2014 in Michigan, there were nearly 46,000 deer crashes that resulted in 1,329 injuries and eight deaths. Annually, there is an average of 134 deer-vehicle crashes each day.
So what can you do to make sure you are not added to this list?
Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist Joe Robison says that drivers should think about deer when driving and drive defensively. Deer can appear at almost any time.
“Most injuries and deaths occur when motorists veer to avoid the deer,” said Robison. “So when a deer crash is unavoidable, it is important to have your hands on the steering wheel, slow down and stay in your own lane. Also, deer often travel in groups. If you see one deer, there will likely be more. Often it is not the first deer that gets you it is the second or third one following the first.”
Some point to deer hunters, noting that they’re a major reason deer are scampering about so much. Not so, says Robison. According to him, it is more due to the deer’s breeding season, or rutting season, that will cause a deer to move more often this time of year.
“Periods of high deer movement around dawn and dusk and seasonal behavior patterns, like the fall breeding season, increase the risk of auto-deer collisions,” said Robison. “Changes in collision rates from year to year are a reflection of changing deer densities or population levels — more deer in a given area increases the potential for collision.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 1 million auto accidents with deer each year, resulting in more than 10,000 injuries, 200 deaths, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage.
Since deer are unpredictable creatures, and their actions and movements can be erratic, it is important for drivers to stay alert, avoid speeding, limit distractions, and expect the unexpected.
Booher would add staying off your cell phone to that list too.
“I can’t tell you how many people I pass on the road who are on their cell phone,” said Booher. “Especially during this time of year, I would just put the phone down and keep your eyes on the road. I have avoided hitting many deer simply by seeing them on the side of the road before they darted out. Often it would give me time to brake and avoid the deer altogether. Be aware and be alert, that’s my advice.”
Experts say to avoid swerving when you see a deer. Brake firmly, but stay in your lane. It’s better to hit the deer than to swerve into oncoming traffic or off the road into a tree.
“Don’t swerve to avoid that deer,” Robison said. “That is how most fatalities occur — not from actually hitting the deer. It is what you hit trying to avoid the deer that kills you.”
Seven safety tips to help drivers minimize their risk of hitting a deer:
1. Watch for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. Keep a close eye on the roadways and the side of the roads.
2. Slow down. Watch your speed during dawn and dusk. More deer-related accidents occur at night because deer are hidden from the driver’s sight and car headlights can disorient deer —causing them to run in front of a moving vehicle.
3. Watch for deer-crossing signs. These signs are posted in areas where accidents and deer activity have been reported. Be mindful that absence of a warning sign does not mean deer inactivity.
4. Use high beams at night when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on the side of the road. If you encounter a deer, switch to low beam so the animal is not blinded.
5. Honk your horn and flash your headlights to frighten deer away.
6. Deer seldom run alone. If you see one deer, others may be nearby.
7. Wear your seat belt at all times. Reports show that 60 percent of fatal accidents with deer were the result of people not wearing a seat belt.