The deer population is plentiful — which is good for area hunters — but bad for motorists.
The number of deer-vehicle wrecks increase substantially in the final three months of the year. The likelihood of vehicles colliding with animals more than doubles during deer mating season, according to statefarm.com.
There were nearly 50 deer-vehicle wrecks reported to Franklin County law enforcement from Nov. 1 through Dec. 3, according to The Herald’s daily report accident log.
The number of deer crashes in cities does not match those in the county, but drivers do need to be aware of possible deer inside the city limits.
Adam Weingartner, Ottawa assistant police chief, said the majority of deer crashes inside Ottawa occur near Highland Cemetery on East 15th Street and K-68 between Davis Road and I-35.
“Knowing these areas are prone to deer crossings, drivers should keep a close eye to the sides of the road for crossing deer — especially in the early mornings and evenings and when temperatures drop below freezing — we see an increase in deer activity during these times,” Weingartner said.
Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said drivers need to be aware that deer may cross on county roads at any time.
“If they notice a deer, or other obstacle, they should slow down.” Richards said. “At least by letting off the accelerator and braking if needed. Do not swerve. When vehicles swerve at highway speeds there is always a risk of causing the vehicle to overturn. Keep the vehicle in your lane of travel. Try to stop before striking the deer.”
Nationally, car-deer collisions keep rising. A State Farm Insurance study revealed deer crash claims increased 21 percent the past five years, even though the miles driven by motorists increased by 2 percent. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year in the U.S., resulting in $1 billion in vehicle damage.
Law enforcement officials and insurance agents said if a collision occurs, call the authorities immediately.
“If a driver does hit a deer, they should pull over to a safe place and stop, call dispatch, and wait for a deputy/officer/trooper to arrive,” Richards said.
Weingartner said drivers should remain at the scene instead of driving home then reporting the incident.
Steve Norris, American Family Insurance agent, said it is important to contact law enforcement after an incident for a number of reasons. He said one of those is so the deer can be removed from the road so it will not cause more than one incident.
Norris said his office averages two or three deer claims a week during the fall and at least two a month the rest of the year.
“We are now having them all through the year,” he said. “A long time ago, rutting season was the key, but now it is anytime. We are seeing more and more all the time.”
Norris said deer are moving away from their natural habitats in the country closer to the city.
“After harvest, they are out in the fields,” Norris said. “They like the grain. The water is what draws them in there. It does not have to be a dirt road. You see them on the interstate all the time.”
Norris said deer have been seen grazing in yards in Rockwood Acres, which is located east of Ottawa on 15th Street. He said a couple of years ago when the new Price Chopper was being built, a deer was hit at 18th and Princeton streets.
Vehicle damage caused by deer crashes can be substantial, Norris said.
“An average deer claim is pretty expensive,” Norris said. “We have had cars totaled. It is a real danger.”
Statefarm.com gives tips to help curtail deer-vehicle incidents:
• Slow down, particularly at dusk and dawn.
• If you see one deer, be prepared for more deer to cross the road.
• Pay attention to deer crossing signs.
• Always buckle up, every trip, every time.
• Use your high beams to see farther, except when there is oncoming traffic.
• Brake if you can, but avoid swerving, which could result in a more severe crash.
• Remain focused on the road, scanning for hazards, including animals.
• Avoid distractions, like devices or eating, which might cause you to miss seeing an animal.
• Do not rely on products such as deer whistles, which are not proven effective.
• If riding a motorcycle, always wear protective gear and keep focused on the road ahead.