Collisions with deer aren't entirely random

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deer running in front of vehicles seems random, but statistics from the Missouri Highway Patrol offer insights that can prevent property damage and save lives.

The Highway Patrol recorded 3,419 deer-vehicle accidents in 2007, or about 2.1 percent of all recorded traffic accidents in the state last year. Although deer-vehicle collisions make up only a small part of traffic accidents, the cost is high. People suffered injuries in 276 of deer-car crashes, and five people died. Understanding when, where and how these crashes occurred could help drivers avoid future crashes.

More than half of last year's deer-vehicle accidents occurred from September through December. November was the most dangerous month, with 22.8 percent of the years' deer-car collisions.

Time of day is an important factor, too. Nearly one in five deer-vehicle crashes occurred between 5 and 8 a.m., and another 54.7 percent happened between 5 p.m. and midnight.

Only 12 percent of deer-car accidents happened on interstate highways. 16 percent happened on state lettered highways. The majority -- 51.5 percent -- took place on numbered state highways or U.S. highways other than interstates.

An amazing 82.3 percent of deer-car crashes -- including all five of last year's fatalities -- occurred on wet pavement. All five fatalities also occurred on straight stretches of rural roads. Three took place on hills.

Male drivers accounted for 61 percent of deer-car crashes, females for 39 percent. Drivers' ages did not seem to make much difference in the frequency of deer-car accidents.

The top 10 counties for deer-vehicle accidents were ones with large human populations: Jackson, 333; Platte, 204; Clay, 193; St. Louis, 165; Jefferson, 164; Franklin, 113; St. Charles, 110; Johnson, 103; Boone, 99; and Phelps, 79. Counties with the lowest incidence of deer-vehicle accidents included some with large numbers of deer, as evidenced by deer-harvest statistics.

Tips for avoiding collisions with deer include:

* Watch for deer along roadways, especially between dusk and dawn.

* Reduce speed when driving in wet weather, because wet pavement is associated with a higher incidence of deer-car accidents.

* Use high-beam headlights, which reflect in deer eyes, making them easier to see.

* Be particularly alert when passing streams or wooded valleys that tend to funnel deer traffic across roadways.

* Slow down immediately if you see a deer, even if it is not in the roadway. It could run into your path unexpectedly.

* Sound your horn to warn standing deer of your approach.

* Be extra alert, and slow down if a deer crosses the road ahead. Deer often travel in groups, and others could follow the first one.

* Brake firmly when you see a deer in or near the roadway.

* Do not swerve. This can confuse the deer about where to run. It can also cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

* Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in deer-vehicle crashes are not wearing seat belts.

If you strike a deer with your car, get your vehicle off the road, and call the police. Don't approach an injured animal. It could hurt you. Report any injury or damage to your insurance company to ensure coverage.

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