Oh, deer: November the deadliest month for road run-ins

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Virginia ranks 12th for deer collisions nationwide, according to State Farm statistics. File photo. Virginia ranks 12th for deer collisions nationwide, according to State Farm statistics. File photo.

Love is in the air for white-tailed deer this month. Unfortunately for humans, there’s nothing romantic about a smashed car, and deer-vehicle collisions soar in November as the randy animals roam through woods, over fields, and into roadways during the peak of their mating season, which coincides with the start of deer hunting season.

According to statewide data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, in each of the last three Novembers, there have been more than 1,200 deer-vehicle collisions, which make up nearly a quarter of the approximately 5,400 deer related crashes that have occurred in the Commonwealth each of those years. While the vast majority of these incidents damage only cars (and deer), injury and even death to the cars’ occupants is possible. Four people died as a result of a deer strike in Virginia last year, and five perished in 2011.

On October 12, an Augusta County woman who was riding in the front passenger seat died from her injuries after a deer struck the vehicle in which she was riding and came through the windshield. Her husband was also injured, according to a news report. At least two other car-deer collisions in Albemarle County in the past several weeks have resulted in 911 calls being placed, although no injuries were reported.

In a November 2010 New York Times article, deer biologist David Yancey with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, explained that by human standards, deer are legally blind. Because they are “crepuscular”—that is, most active in the one hour before and after dusk and dawn—their vision is best adapted for low light, and they’re essentially blinded by headlights.

“They don’t know what to do,” Yancey said, “so they do nothing.”

In addition to the tips below, Washington, D.C.-based State Farm insurance spokesperson Anna Bryant offered a few other reminders that include keeping high beams on as much as possible to deter deer before they enter the roadway. And if a deer collision seems inevitable, slow down and don’t turn the wheel suddenly.

“Attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or place you in the path of an oncoming vehicle,” said Bryant.

So what’s a driver to do to avoid a deer strike? Dumb luck is still probably the best defense, but here’s some advice from insurance agencies and from travel organization AAA.

  • Stick to the speed limit and keep your eyes not only on the road in front of you but on the shoulder, where deer often suddenly appear.
  • Because deer travel in herds, don’t assume once one has cleared the road that the danger has passed. A dozen more could be right behind.
  • Watch for deer crossing signs, and don’t rely on deer deterring whistles that can be installed on your car. According to reports by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts tests at its Ruckersville facility, research has proven the whistles are ineffective.
  • Nighttime offers another deer warning for drivers—the glow of eyes reflecting off headlights. The phrase “deer in the headlights” isn’t for nothing.
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