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Deer crossing road. Photo by Bet Zimmerman.  

The odds of a deer-vehicle collision are highest from October - November, from dusk until dawn. More...

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It’s been a long day.  The leaves are turning color, but you don’t notice because it’s dark, and you’re tired.  You’re driving a little too fast, as you’re anxious to get home.  A couple of vehicles are approaching from the opposite direction.  You click off the high beams.  Suddenly the silhouette of a motionless deer appears in your lane.  You slam on the brakes, but there isn’t enough time to stop.  You have nowhere to go but right into the deer.  It joins about 18,000 other deer killed on Connecticut roads annually.  Since you were wearing a seatbelt, you do not join the 29,000 people injured or 200 people nationwide who die each year in deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs).  The tab for repairs to your vehicle will be $3,400.  DVCs cause a total of $1 billion in property damage each year in the U.S.

Deer vehicle collisions
Each year in the U.S., an average of 200 people die, and another 29,000 are injuried in deer-vehicle collisions.

With more deer, more drivers and more roads, the odds of being involved in a DVC are bound to rise.   Of course, vehicles hit all kinds of animals all the time, but when the victim is small, usually only the animal is affected. The larger the animal, the higher the likelihood of a severe accident from the driver’s perspective.   

DVCs can happen anywhere, any time. They are, however, most frequent from September through January.  The likelihood is highest from October through November, when shortened daylight hours trigger deer breeding season, known as the ‘rut.’  During this time, hormone-driven preoccupation overwhelms caution.  Also, deer are polygamous.  The more they move around, the better their chances of encountering a mate, according to Dale May, CT DEP Wildlife Division Director and Quiet Corner resident. 

The rut coincides with hunting season on purpose.  Reckless, mobile deer are easier to hunt.  Some people conclude that accidents are more common in the Fall because hunters are chasing deer out onto roads.  If this were the case, you would expect more accidents on Fridays and Saturdays when most people hunt, and during hunting hours, which are one-half hour before sunrise until sunset.  A DEP study investigated the timing of DVCs based on reports received from police departments.  The numbers showed that more accidents actually occur on Sundays, when hunting is prohibited.  DVCs were also more frequent within 1-4 hours after dark, which corresponds with peak traffic volume at the end of the workday. 

Dozens of methods have been tested to try to reduce DVCs, such as fences, reflectors, overpasses, underpasses, deer crossing signs, managing vegetation along roadways, and deer whistles.  Some, like deer whistles, have proven to be useless.  The results of other studies were inconclusive, or the studies themselves were inadequate.  Researchers in Colorado did at least find an effective way to get drivers to slow down, by putting dead deer carcasses on the highway shoulder close to a deer crossing sign. The study had to be discontinued for liability reasons.

Some DVCs can be avoided.  Your best defense is awareness, says May.  Just as you would be on the lookout for traffic and pedestrians, be alert for wildlife, especially in the Fall between dusk and dawn.  Reduce your speed by 10-15 mph when visibility is poor.  This will give you more time for evasive maneuvers and lessen the severity of an unavoidable impact.  If you see a deer by the roadside, slow down immediately.  A frightened deer is an unpredictable deer.  Also, deer tend to travel in groups. Even though one has already crossed the road, another might be right behind it.  Always wear your seatbelt.  Most people injured or killed in DVCs were not wearing a seatbelt.

If you do hit a deer, contact the State or local police.  CT motorists who accidentally hit and kill deer with their vehicles can claim the carcass.  However, they must obtain a special permit from the investigating officer at the scene of the accident before removing the deer.    

Update:  You may recall the June 2007 article on bird serial killer Michael Zak.  At least 279 Great Blue Herons, six Ospreys, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a juvenile Bald Eagle were illegally killed at his fish hatchery in Sunderland, MA.  In July of this year, Zak was sentenced to six months in a federal halfway house, five years probation with no contact with firearms, and a fine of a $65,000 fine for killing protected birds on his property. His co-defendant and employee Timothy Lloyd received two years probation and a $1,500 fine.   

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Originally published in the Villager newspapers October 5, 2007


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