Chance for deer collisions rises as fall approaches

Deer crossing of roads and highways traditionally increase during rut (mating and hunting seasons, which occur predominantly in October and November in Delaware. (Delaware State Police)

DOVER — The days are getting shorter with October creeping up. Daylight will become even more scarce when daylight saving time ends on Nov. 4.

The addition of more night-time driving hours for motorists in Delaware means the risk of hitting a deer, another animal — or even a human — increases.

That’s why the Delaware State Police is working in step with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, Delaware Department of Transportation and AAA Mid-Atlantic, to remind drivers to be diligent in practicing safe-driving measures during this dangerous time of year.

“The statistics are clear that with shorter daylight hours, we see more vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and deer,” said DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan. “Throughout the fall season, motorists will see message boards reminding them to use caution and drive safely.

“We want everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation, to get to their destination safely.”

Deer crossing of roads and highways traditionally increase during rut (mating and hunting seasons, which occur predominantly in October and November in Delaware.

Data from the Delaware State Police show that there was an improvement up and down the state with a reduction of deer crashes over the past two years.

When it came to deer-related crashes in 2017, Sussex County led the way with 893, followed by New Castle (502) and Kent (377) counties. A total of 64 of those crashes caused personal injury to a driver. (Delaware State Police photo)

There were 1,913 crashes involving motor vehicles and animals (1,772 deer-related incidents) in 2017, including 558 in New Castle, 409 in Kent and 946 in Sussex counties.

A total of 1,355 of those crashes happened between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Those numbers were down from the 2,042 total crashes that took place between motor vehicles and animals in 2016.

The Delaware State Police said that some of the decrease could be attributed to proactive work and warnings, which are trying to make a difference in changing drivers’ behaviors in the fall.

When it came to deer-related crashes in 2017, Sussex County led the way with 893, followed by New Castle (502) and Kent (377) counties. A total of 64 of those crashes caused personal injury to a driver.

While there has been a slight decrease in the total number of animal and deer crashes reported in Delaware, there has been an increase in the number of crashes involving motor vehicles and pedestrians.

Kimberly Chesser, the acting director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, said both motorists and pedestrians need to have a heightened sense of focus and awareness when the daytime hours grow shorter.

“The fall and winter months are the most dangerous times for pedestrians,” Ms. Chesser said. “With low daylight hours, it is important for both pedestrians and drivers to be alert on Delaware’s roadways and share the responsibility to keep themselves and others on the road safe.

“OHS reminds all pedestrians to be visible, use crosswalks and not to walk under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Drivers should be aware that pedestrians are often not where you would expect them. Drivers should be focused on the road at all times, slow down when pedestrians are present and not drive under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.”

State police said there were 200 total crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians in 2017, including 129 in New Castle, 35 in Kent and 36 in Sussex counties

Of those incidents 126 led to personal injury and 26 led to deaths, with 14 coming in New Castle, eight in Sussex and four in Kent counties.

The chances of a pedestrian being involved in a fatality dramatically increase from September to December, as 12 of the 26 fatal crashes between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian took place over those four months in 2017, including seven between the hours of 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Ken Grant, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, said people need to increase their driving focus over the coming months in order to drop the numbers of pedestrian fatalities.

“Whatever the reason, everyone is a pedestrian at some point, and everyone plays a role in keeping our roadways safe – look out for pedestrians at all times,” Mr. Grant said. “When you are operating a vehicle, you have accepted a heightened responsibility for other people on the road.

“Safety is a two-way street. Often, pedestrians — especially younger ones — are not where they should be or where you would expect them to be. Remain vigilant at all times.”

In order to avoid a collision with a deer or a pedestrian, the Delaware State Police offers these suggestions:

•Consider all roadways and not just back roads for deer crossings; slowing down during rut and hunting season (and the darker hours reference pedestrians).

•Never take your eyes off the roadway, especially during this vulnerable time of year; Drive when you are alert and not when you are too tired to properly focus.

• Do not drive a vehicle while impaired by illicit drugs, alcohol, or mind-altering medications.

•Be prepared for a deer to cross, or a pedestrian to be on the shoulder on any type of roadway, since deer cross on highways, too, where traffic speeds are higher and deer eyes are more difficult to see; Know Delaware’s pedestrian-related laws and follow them and know what to do if a pedestrian is approaching, or partially in a crosswalk.

As for walking safely along Delaware’s roads, the State Police suggest that pedestrians:

•Follow all pedestrian laws, to include: walking while facing traffic, walking with a light, or reflective gear; crossing at crosswalks; and utilizing pedestrian-related signals. Research pedestrian laws online, if you are unfamiliar with them.

•Do not walk on, or close to high-speed highways; Call 911 and get as far from high-speed traffic as you can, while waiting for assistance.

•Do not walk on, or near a roadway, or highway, if you are under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, to include prescription medication that has mind-altering affects.

Joe Rogerson, Division of Fish and Wildlife program manager for Species Conservation and Research, said the troubles between motorists and deer in Delaware will not go away overnight.

Mr. Rogerson said when it comes to Delaware, it’s a constant battle between deer trying to survive in their natural habitat against an increasing number of commuters in the state.

“Through management actions to balance deer numbers with available natural habitat and public acceptance, Delaware’s deer population has stabilized and may be showing signs of decreasing to more sustainable levels,” said Mr. Rogerson. “However, there are still numerous areas in the state that have excessive deer populations.

“Combine a high deer population with decreasing deer habitat and increased numbers of commuters and you have a recipe for a high number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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