Cornell professor Paul Curtis: Drivers shouldn’t swerve to avoid deer
Peaceful deer can be menacing to drivers who face them on roadways, causing vehicle damage and even injuries.
Paul Curtis, a professor of natural resources at Cornell University in New York and a nationally recognized wildlife expert, talked with InsuranceQuotes.com about motorists’ chances of colliding with a deer and why deer crashes are more prevalent than we think.
It peaks because of breeding season. Bucks are chasing does for breeding possibilities, and both sexes of deer are paying less attention to traffic. Deer cross highways more frequently, increasing the probability of collisions with cars.
Another thing that happens is the change from daylight saving time to … standard time. The peak of deer activity at daylight and dusk coincides with rush-hour traffic. Data shows the peak times (for deer-car collisions) are within an hour of sunrise in morning and hour of sunset. So the likelihood of deer-vehicle accidents increases because there are more deer and cars on the highway at the same times of the day.
But accidents can occur at other times of year too, right?
Accidents can occur any time of year. There is a secondary peak in deer-vehicle accidents; it happens in late May and early June. There is about a three-week window when deer accidents go up again. That’s the spring dispersal season, when female deer get ready to give birth to new fawns for the summer. Just prior to that, she kicks last year’s fawns out of her home range. You’ve got a lot of young deer that are away from their mother for the first time and trying to move across the landscape and develop their own home range.
The female fawns will set up their home range adjacent to or near their mother. About 20 percent will disperse some distance. I don’t have a lot of dispersal data for female fawns because a lower percentage of females disperse. It seems most tagged female fawns that disperse are recovered or killed within five to 10 miles of where they were captured. I can think of only a couple that have gone as far as 20 miles during the past 10-plus years. The opposite is true for the males. The average dispersal distance for a male fawn is 12 miles. We have had a few go 50 miles or more. Obviously, if they’re traveling that far they’ve got to cross a lot of roads.
What should drivers look for during those peak seasons and times of day?
Learn to recognize the deer’s eye shine and reflection in the beam of your headlights. It is silver-dollar-shaped with a green shine, and it will give you an extra second or two to slow down.
Deer are very social animals. They’re almost always in family groups. When you see one deer cross the road, assume there are more. People will say, another (one) came out of nowhere and ran into my car. Maybe an adult female will cross first, then two fawns. They’ll run right out in traffic because they will want to cross the road and be with their mother. Even bucks are social; most of the year they’re in bachelors’ groups.
How should motorists react when seeing a deer crossing sign?
Deer are very much creatures of habit. They have traditional pathways that family groups have used year after year. Where you see deer in the path on your daily commute to work or school, expect to see them there again. A lot of times those areas get marked with deer crossing signs. The problem is those are so prevalent now that people don’t pay attention to them.
What is the safest way to respond to deer on the roadway?
The best thing to do is to just hit the deer and keep driving as straight as possible and slow down as quickly as you can. Most people are injured in deer accidents when they try to swerve to avoid a deer. I tell motorists that the deer is the softest thing you’re likely to hit. The most serious human injuries incur when you hit a guardrail or tree.
What is one reason why people may not report deer collisions?
If the car got minor damage, most motorists don’t report it because they don’t want their insurance rates to go up. I think the number of deer-vehicle collisions is grossly underreported. (State Farm reported in 2012 that the number of deer-related collisions in the U.S. jumped to 1.23 million between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, from 1.09 million between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011.)