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Virginia Car Vs Deer Crash Risk Jumps As Mating Season Begins

Patch logo Patch 10/9/2019 Deb Belt
a deer in a field © Provided by Planck, LLC, d/b/a Patch Media

VIRGINIA — With deer on the move looking for a mate from October through December, chances are good that drivers are going to have an unfortunate meeting with an animal on a Virginia road. The odds a motorist will hit a deer or other animal are 1 in 116, according to State Farm Insurance.

In Virginia, drivers have a 1 in 74 chance of a collision with an animal; in Washington, D.C., the risk is 1 in 826. Most animal-involved crashes occur around dawn and dusk.

The likelihood of a vehicle-animal collision is based on the insurer’s estimate that U.S. drivers made more than 1.9 million animal collision claims from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.

The 10 states with the greatest likelihood for an animal-vehicle collision are:

  1. West Virginia (1 in 38)
  2. Montana (1 in 48)
  3. Pennsylvania (1 in 52)
  4. South Dakota (1 in 54)
  5. Iowa (1 in 55)
  6. Wyoming (1 in 56)
  7. Wisconsin (1 in 57)
  8. Michigan (1 in 60)
  9. Mississippi (1 in 61)
  10. Minnesota (1 in 64)

"Drive defensively, especially in the fall. Fall is the mating season for deer, commonly called the 'rut' by deer hunters, and the time of year when deer are the most active," says the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "Approximately one-half or more of all deer-vehicle collisions generally occur during the three months of October, November, and December."

Officials say drivers can try to avoid deer collisions by taking these steps:

  • Be especially careful when driving at dawn and at dusk, the time of day when deer are most active.
  • If you see a deer crossing the road up ahead, slow down immediately and continue to drive slowly until you pass the point where the deer crossed. Female deer frequently travel in groups and more deer may be about to cross.
  • If you see a VDOT deer crossing warning sign, slow down and watch for deer. They prefer to cross the same areas routinely.
  • Do not swerve to miss a deer; instead brake and stay in your lane. Losing control of your vehicle so you hit an oncoming vehicle, or go off the road and strike a tree will likely cause a more serious accident than hitting a deer.
  • Watch the shoulder of the road. Be alert for deer standing along the shoulder as they may suddenly move into the roadway. Slow down and sound your horn to scare them away.

For some perspective, State Farm actuaries say Americans have a 1 in 175 chance of being audited by the IRS, a 1 in 215 chance of dating a millionaire, a 1 in 220 chance of writing a New York Times bestseller, a 1 in 250 chance of learning their child is a genius and a 1 in 563 chance of catching a ball at a Major League Baseball game.

Any of those outcomes would be preferable to having your vehicle become one with an animal. State Farm said it expanded its annual analysis of deer-vehicle collisions this year to include other animals including ostriches, owls and more, because they, too, can be dangerous for all involved.

a close up of a map: Credit State Farm © Provided by Planck, LLC, d/b/a Patch Media Credit State Farm

A 2016 study in rural southwest Virginia found that among the 1,837 cases of road kill were 64 different species, including 1,415 mammals, 188 birds, 105 reptiles, 122 domestic animals and seven frogs.

But deer still are the main hazard in most areas — especially when bucks, the males, are “in rut” and seeking a mate. During this active time for deer, bucks will run in front of your car while chasing a potential mate, or while confronting another buck that has eyes on the same doe.

“Claims after collisions with an animal range from small dents to totaled vehicles and injured drivers and passengers,” Michael Braaten, State Farm director of enterprise research, said in a news release. “By sharing ways to help drivers be aware of the increased dangers this time of year — including inclement weather, shorter periods of daylight and students driving home after evening activities — State Farm hopes to help decrease the number of collisions and injuries.”

High-frequency whistles on your vehicle aren't going to help you much, according to researchers at the University of Georgia, who tested a variety of sounds at different frequencies and intensities to see how deer reacted.

Their conclusion: Though some people swear by them, deer whistles don't change the animals' behavior.

There's also some debate on how much honking helps. It can't hurt, but it may not help, either.

Here are things you can do to lower the chances that you'll hit a deer on the road:

1. Slow down, keep your eyes peeled on both sides of the roadway and be prepared to come to a complete stop if necessary. Deer don't stop, look and listen before they dart into the roadway. Deer-crossing signs warn of where they're most likely to cross, but you can't count on that, especially during rut.

2. Use your high beams when possible to increase your chances of seeing animals in the ditches. Flicking on your high beams might cause animals to scurry away.

Also, because it makes sense, make sure you're wearing your seat belt. If you do hit a deer, it will decrease the chances you will be injured.

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