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Deer in headlights – and in and out of traffic elsewhere this time of year; be alert to them



Because the recent end of daylight savings time means more Delawareans are driving home from their jobs at dusk, the Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds drivers to be alert for and aware of white-tailed deer crossing roadways. Deer are most active during this nocturnal window, and awareness of their movement along roads and highways is particularly important during Delaware's deer hunting seasons, which extend into early 2008.


“We might be heading home to relax at the end of our day, but deer are just beginning their busiest time around dusk,” said DNREC Game Mammal Biologist Joe Rogerson. “Twilight hours, especially from sunset to midnight and shortly before and after sunrise, are when motorists need to be especially alert and watch for them.”


The average white-tailed deer in Delaware weighs about 130 pounds, with larger bucks tipping the scales at 180 pounds or more. Hitting an animal that size can do serious and expensive damage to your vehicle. Such a collision may also cause injury to you or your passengers or trigger an accident involving you and other motorists.


Statistics from the National Safety Council show 490,000 animal-related accidents nationwide in 2005, resulting in 100 deaths and 8,000 injuries. The average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is $2,800, a number which increases in cases involving injury.


In 2006, the Delaware State Police logged 373 animal-vehicle crashes – the overwhelming majority involving deer - which resulted in 27 personal injuries and 346 property damage-only cases. In addition, one motorcyclist was killed after losing control of his bike when a deer ran out in front of him.


Reportable crashes are those in which a person was injured and/or the property damage was greater than $1,500. Many more may have gone unreported to the police or were reported only to insurance companies.


National statistics also show that about half or more of all deer-vehicle collisions occur during October, November and December, with most concentrated in October and early November.


“Fall is mating season for deer, and in Delaware this year, we’re expecting that the rut began in early November,” Rogerson said. “Because of this, deer are more active, with bucks single-mindedly pursuing does – sometimes right into the path of your car.”


Other reasons for deer activity cited by state agency deer experts and reported by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies include an increasing deer population, development pressures on deer habitat and less hunting.


Attentive driving is the best way to avoid deer collisions. Keep these tips in mind:


  • Turn your headlights on at dawn and dusk and keep your eyes on the road, scanning the sides of the road as well as what’s ahead of you. When there is no oncoming traffic, switch to high beams to better reflect the eyes of deer on or near the roadway. To reduce your risk of injury in a collision, always wear your seatbelt.  
  • Watch for deer crossing signs that mark commonly used areas, and be aware that deer typically cross between areas of cover, such as woods or where roads divide agricultural fields from forestland.  
  • If you see a deer crossing the road ahead, slow down immediately and proceed with caution until you are past the crossing point. Deer usually travel in groups, so if you see one deer, there are likely to be others.
  •  Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten deer away. Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer, as these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.  
  • Do not swerve to miss a deer – brake and stay in your lane. Losing control of your vehicle, crossing into another lane, hitting an oncoming vehicle or leaving the roadway and hitting another obstacle such as a tree or a pole is likely to be much more serious than hitting a deer.  
  • If you hit a deer, stop at the scene, get your car off the road if possible and call police. Do not touch the animal or get too close.  

“A frightened and wounded deer can cause serious injury to a well-meaning person trying to ‘help.’ You could be bitten, kicked or even gored by a buck’s antlers. It’s safer to keep your distance,” said Rogerson.


Also note that if in the event of an deer-vehicle collision, you would like to keep a deer that has been killed for its venison, the Delaware State Police can issue a vehicle killed deer tag.


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