Love is in the air making roads dangerous for motorists, deadly for deer
Lexington County, SC (Paul Kirby) – Over the past several weeks, Lexington County’s law enforcement officers and first responders have already begun answering calls regarding the inevitable wrecks between vehicles and a whitetail deer. It’s just that time of the year, a period where we see spikes in these accidents. Unfortunately, the danger will increase as it gets cooler, but by next spring, the fruits of all this craziness will be some beautiful, delicate fawns that will grow up to go through this cycle themselves. In almost all cases, these accidents have one root cause, love.
For those not familiar with the love life of a deer, it’s called the rut. This is a time when the male animal’s testosterone increases making them more in the mood for love! Guys, if you think that lady in the last commercial during the football game could make you crazy, most humans have a mild case of the lovesickness blues compared to a deer. The male deer may mark themselves with mud and perform characteristic displays in order to make themselves more visually appealing to the ladies. They also secrete fluids from their glands and soak things in their own urine as a love attractant. Personally, I’ll stick to Old Spice! As ladies sometimes do, the female deer can play hard-to-get making the male give chase for his love. Therein lies the root of the car versus deer collision problem.
Studies show that about 45 percent of deer-vehicle collisions occur in roughly a 60-day period that corresponds with the deer breeding season. In South Carolina, the deer breeding season, or “rut,” is generally during the months of October and November.
Deer movements - and vehicle collisions - are at their peak during the breeding season in October and November. Also, most vehicle collisions occur near sun-up and sun-down because deer tend to move more during these times. Unfortunately, these are also the times that most humans commute to work in their vehicles.
According to Wildlife Biologist Charles Roof of the SC Department of Natural Resources, motorists throughout the state need to be constantly aware of roaming white-tailed deer. Despite a persistent rumor, neither the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) nor any other state agency will compensate motorists for injuries or damages resulting from deer collisions. Besides practicing safe and defensive driving techniques, each motorist should carry adequate collision and comprehensive insurance.
The S.C. Department of Public Safety reported approximately 2,400 deer-vehicle collisions in 2016, similar to figures from the last few years. South Carolina is in a much better position than most states, particularly states in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Many states have 30,000-50,000 deer-vehicle collisions annually.
Roof said that sound deer management through regulated annual harvest is the most effective way of curtailing deer-vehicle collisions. Even with that management plan in place, Roof said that following some commonsense rules for driving defensively in deer country will make the trip safer. White-tailed deer are masters at evading predators;however, these same predator-avoidance instincts often cause deer to bolt in front of oncoming vehicles.
Roof said that if you see a deer well ahead of you, blow your horn several times, flicking headlights (if no oncoming traffic is present) and reduce your speed. If a deer is close by the time it’s sighted, do not blow the horn or flick lights. Roof said this may spook the deer into running across the road increasing the likelihood of a collision. In these cases, it’s best to just slow down.
Roof said you should always anticipate another deer if you see one or more crossing the highway. Do not expect the deer to get out of the way. Fortunately, deer-vehicle collisions typically involve damage to the vehicle rather than humans. Most serious injuries occur when the motorist loses control of the vehicle and hits an immovable object like a tree or embankment while attempting high risk maneuvers to avoid a deer. If a collision with a deer is imminent, it is best to hit the deer rather than risk losing control of the vehicle.
“Pay attention to changes in habitat types along the highway,” Roof said. “The zone between habitat types is a likely place for deer to cross a road. Creek bottoms and where agricultural fields meet woodlands are also prime areas for deer to cross roadways,” he concluded.
Rural or secondary roads rank highest in deer-vehicle accidents because of the frequent curves and narrow shoulders. Motorists often have little warning and therefore limited reaction time when they see deer.
What should motorists do if they hit a deer? Report the incident to the state Highway Patrol or local law enforcement and to your insurance company. Finally, many people wonder if they can keep the deer for consumption. This it is not a problem as long as there is an incident report demonstrating that the deer was killed by a vehicle and not illegally shot, according to Roof.