Oh, deer! Crashes rise in autumn so motorists must be on alert

Delaware’s deer population has stabilized, but there are still numerous areas in the state that have excessive deer populations, according to Joe Rogerson of the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. “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,” he said. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — With the leaves starting to change colors and the temperatures cooling off, restless deer are becoming a major concern for motorists in Delaware.

The likelihood of hitting a deer increases October through December and motorists are more likely to strike them in the dawn and dusk hours.

A State Farm Insurance study ranked Delaware 24th in the nation from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, with a 1 in 132 chance of having a collision with a deer. The state was No. 28 last year with a 1 in 148 chance of a deer strike.

The national average for striking a deer with a vehicle is one in 162.

West Virginia leads the nation in the likelihood of having an insurance claim involving a deer. However, the state’s statistic of one out of every 43 drivers involved in a deer strike actually represents a 4.7 percent decrease from 2016.

According to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, it’s that time of year again to be on the lookout for deer.

“At the end of our work day, as we’re heading home, deer are just beginning their peak movement time,” said Emily Boyd, a deer biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife. “From dusk to midnight and within a few hours of sunrise is when motorists need to be especially alert and watch for deer on the road.”

Shorter days are looming, especially after the time “falls back” on Nov. 5 from Daylight Savings to Standard Time, and more drivers will hit the road to go home from work at dusk.

“Animal-vehicle collisions start to increase in October and peek in mid-November,” said Ken Grant, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“As the deer population grows and urbanization spreads into formerly rural areas, motorists need to be even more cautious and alert behind the wheel, especially at dawn and dusk, which can be times high of deer activity.”

Delaware State Police caution that deer crashes do not take place only on back roads — they can happen anywhere.

Master Cpl. Gary Fournier, spokesman for the state police, said there were 2,042 animal/deer related crashes in Delaware last year. There were 1,010 deer crashes investigated in Sussex County, 441 in Kent County and 591 in New Castle County.

“Deer typically cross between areas of cover, such as woods or where roads divide agriculture fields from woods,” Master Cpl. Fournier said. “If you hit a deer, stop at the scene, get your car off the road if possible and call police.”

Motorists should also contact their insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible to report damage to their vehicle.

Collision with a deer or other animals is covered under the comprehensive portion of an automobile policy, not collision.

Deer will be even more active due to their annual mating season “rut” in November with bucks chasing doe through fields, marshes and woods.

A collision with a deer can prove to be fatal, considering the average white-tailed deer in Delaware weighs around 130 pounds, with larger bucks tipping the scales at 180 pounds or more.

Hitting an animal that size can cause serious and expensive damage to a vehicle, injure a driver and his or her passengers, or set off an accident involving other motorists.

DNREC officials warn not to touch or get too close to an animal that has been struck by a vehicle.

“A frightened and wounded deer can cause serious injury to a well-meaning person trying to help,” said Joe Rogerson, Division of Fish and Wildlife program manager for Species Conservation and Research. “You could be bitten, kicked or even gored by a buck’s antlers. It’s safer to keep your distance.”

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

Attentive driving and slow speeds are the best ways to avoid deer crashes, according to police and other agencies.

“Deer and other animals are unpredictable and you never know when they might dash out in front of your vehicle,” Mr. Grant said. “But there are actions you can take to help prevent an accident or reduce the damage from an animal collision.

“First and foremost, always protect yourself by wearing a seat belt and removing all distractions behind the wheel.”

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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