The coming shorter days – especially after daylight savings time changes on Sunday, Nov. 1 – mean more 9-to-5 workers will be driving home at dusk, and DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife reminds all Delaware motorists to remain alert for deer crossing roadways.
“At the end of our day, we might be heading home to relax, but deer are just beginning their busiest time around dusk,” said Joe Rogerson, Division of Fish & Wildlife deer biologist. “From dusk to midnight and shortly before and after sunrise, are when motorists need to be especially alert and watch for deer.”
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.
In 2014, Delaware police departments logged a statewide total of 1,273 deer-vehicle crashes – an 8.6 percent increase from 1,172 in 2013. The crashes reported in 2014 resulted in no fatalities, 62 personal injuries and 1,207 property damage cases. For 2015 through September, 708 deer-related crashes have been reported, with no fatalities, 43 personal injuries and 665 property damage cases. In October to date, Delaware motorists have been involved in 73 deer-vehicle crashes reported to police, with the highest numbers of the year expected in November.
Many more crashes may have gone unreported to the police or were reported only to insurance companies. State Farm Insurance recently reported that motorists made 5,113 deer/vehicle collision insurance claims in Delaware between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, compared to 4,803 for 2013-2014.
In State Farm’s annual report on deer-vehicle collisions, Delaware ranks 23rd this year out of the 41 states where these collisions are most likely to occur. Delaware is considered a medium-risk state with a 1 in 142 chance of a collision, compared to the national average, which remained at 1 in 169. Average property damage claims in deer-vehicle collisions run $4,153, an increase of 6 percent from $3,800 in 2014.
National statistics also show that at least half of all deer-vehicle collisions occur during October, November and December, with most concentrated in October and November. In 2014 in Delaware, DelDOT removed 847 deer from the roadways – a decrease of almost 4 percent from 2013 – with November followed by October having the highest numbers of deer struck on the roadways.
“Fall is mating season for deer, and in Delaware the mating ‘rut’ usually begins 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.”
“Through management actions to balance deer numbers with available natural habitat and public acceptance, Delaware’s deer population has stabilized and has even started to decrease. However, there are still numerous areas in the state that have excessive deer populations,” added Wildlife Section Administrator Rob Hossler. “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.”
Attentive driving is the best way to avoid deer collisions. Keep these tips in mind, as suggested by the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, Delaware police agencies, auto insurance companies and DNREC’s Wildlife Section:
* 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.
* Be especially aware of any distractions that might take your eyes off the road, even if only momentarily, such as cell phones, adjusting the radio, eating or passenger activities.
* Watch for “Deer Crossing” signs that mark commonly-traveled areas, and be aware that deer typically cross between areas of cover, such as woods or where roads divide agricultural fields from woods.
* 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 and wait for authorities to arrive,” said Rogerson.
Anyone who would like to take possession of a deer killed on the road can obtain a vehicle-killed deer tag from the Delaware State Police, or DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police. For more information about white-tailed deer in Delaware, individuals can contact the Wildlife Section at 302-739-9912. For information about a vehicle-killed deer tag, individuals can contact Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police at 302-739-9913.