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Deer-motor vehicle crashes set record in 2004

Posted Tuesday, October 4, 2005

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Chapel Hill, NC – Motor vehicle crashes involving deer remain a serious, growing problem in North Carolina, according to a new University of North Carolina study of data collected statewide during 2004.

Highway Safety Research Center senior database analyst Eric A. Rodgman led the record search and evaluation in what has become an annual effort. Center staff performs the analysis as a public service because the first time they did it, they said, the results for 1994 data “flabbergasted” them.

“As we saw in 2003, about 6.7 percent of all 2004 reportable crashes involved a motor vehicle and a deer in some fashion,” Rodgman said. “These 15,509 crashes -- a new record -- showed up if investigating law enforcement officers used the word ‘deer’ in the narrative portion of reports submitted to the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.”

Almost 93 percent of collisions involving animals were with deer, he said. The rest tended to be dogs, cats and various farm animals, but occasionally, mishaps resulted from small wild mammals such as possums and foxes running across the roadway and causing drivers to swerve.

Deer crashes occur most frequently in October, November and December and are more likely to happen from 5-7 a.m. and between 6 p.m. and midnight, Rodgman said.

“The likelihood of a deer-related crash is greater the further east you go in North Carolina,” he said. “About 35 percent of mountain counties were above the state average for such crashes. The Piedmont had about 67 percent of counties above the state average, while about 83 percent of coastal counties were above the average.”

The good news about deer-related crashes is that the percentage in 2004 was about the same as it was for 2003, Rodgman said. Crashes have risen from about 4 percent in 1994 to 6.7 percent in 2004. Last year, of the more than 15,000 total deer crashes statewide, nine were fatal to motorists.

“Of those, the drivers often got in trouble not actually hitting deer but by trying to avoid them and ending up in a collision with something else such as a tree or vehicle,” he said. “For fatal deer crashes, 77 percent of drivers were thought to have swerved to avoid the animals. In half of the collisions in which drivers were injured, drivers had veered to avoid the animals.”

Property damage totals were estimated to be well over $36 million last year, Rodgman said.

Bertie, Jones, Washington, Duplin, Gates, Pender, Caswell, and Hyde Counties each had deer-related crash ratios that were at least five times the state average, he said. Wake County, with 900, had the most deer accidents, which was nearly double the next leading counties, Duplin and Guilford. Chatham County came in seventh with 352 deer accidents. No deer-related auto accidents were reported in Jackson County in 2004.

“To minimize the likelihood of being involved in a deer-related crash, be aware of the time of day, the month of the year and watch for deer crossing the road, particularly in rural areas,” Rodgman said. “Note that deer often travel in groups, so if you see one, you may see more. Always wear your seat belt in order to prevent personal injury. In the event that a collision with a deer is unavoidable, maintain control of your vehicle. At higher speeds, veering off the road or into the opposing lane can be more dangerous than hitting the deer.”

From anecdotal reports the UNC Highway Safety Research Center has received, the figures probably are just a fraction of the real number of deer-motor vehicle crashes. Records are generated only when the word “deer” appears in the reports. When less than $1,000 damage and no injuries occur, drivers usually do not report the accidents.

Last year, 230,726 motor vehicle crashes occurred in North Carolina, a small drop from the previous year, according to state DMV figures.

Deer-motor vehicle crash safety tips

The Highway Safety Research Center offers the following tips for lowering your risk of a crash with a deer.

* Slow down! In areas with a large deer population, or where there are deer warning signs, drivers should reduce their speed.
* Always wear your seat belt! It's your best protection from injuries in the event of a crash.
* Watch for eyes reflecting in your headlights. Try to look far down the road and scan the roadsides, especially when driving through field edges, heavily wooded areas, or posted deer crossing areas. The sooner you see a deer on or approaching a road, the better your chances of avoiding a crash.
* Remember that deer travel in herds. If you see one deer cross the road in front of you, don't assume that all is clear. Deer herds can be fairly large, and the animals often move one right behind the other.
* Do not place confidence in "deer whistles" or other "ultra-sonic" devices that claim to prevent deer collisions.
* Maintain control of your vehicle. It is important that you not lose control of your vehicle or veer into the path of an oncoming vehicle to avoid contact with an animal. Loss of control usually results in a more serious crash.

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