October and November are two of the most dangerous months in Michigan, especially for the state’s 1.75 million whitetail deer and the 62,707 motorists who crash into them.
Car-deer crashes in Michigan cause at least $130 million in damage each year, or an average of $2,000 per vehicle. Recognizing this fact, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proclaimed October as “Michigan Car-Deer Crash Safety Awareness Month.”
As part of its annual public awareness campaign, the Michigan Deer Crash Coalition (MDCC) joins Gov. Granholm in asking motorists to be extra alert when driving this fall.
The MDCC — a broad affiliation of groups representing law enforcement, traffic safety, insurance, natural resources, higher education and strategic regional planning in both the public and private sectors — seeks to increase awareness of the problem amongst the driving public and reduce the number of deaths and injuries occurring each year on state roads. The theme of this year’s campaign is: “Don’t Veer for Deer!”
“Statistics show that most motorist deaths and injuries occur when drivers swerve to avoid hitting the deer and strike a fixed object, such as a tree or another vehicle,” said coalition Chairman Richard Miller of AAA Michigan. “No one wants to see a deer destroyed, but striking the animal is often the safest action.”
In 2004, Michigan experienced a reduction in the number of total car-deer crashes, which are at their lowest level since 1995. According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, there were 62,707 deer-vehicle crashes in 2004, down approximately 7.4 percent from the 67,760 crashes reported in 2003. Miller said that a very high number of crashes also go unreported.
More than 17 percent of all crashes in Michigan involve deer. Last year, three motorists were killed and 1,647 were injured as the result of a car-deer crash.
Nearly half of all car-deer crashes occur in the October-to-December mating season when deer are very active, and crashes spike again in spring when the season’s first grass appears along highway rights-of-way. Car-deer crashes peaked in 1996, but have stabilized at slightly lower levels in recent years.
On average, there are 185 crashes involving deer every day of the year in Michigan. That’s approximately one every eight minutes, and they occur in every county, including metropolitan areas like Detroit and Grand Rapids.
All motorists should “think deer” whenever they are behind the wheel, and drive defensively, as if a deer can appear at any moment, because they can! And all motorists should remember to always fasten their safety belts. Safety belts often make the difference in surviving a serious crash.
The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University (MSU) just completed two research projects that provided insights into what may be done to reduce the number of car-deer crashes (CDCs) in southeast Michigan. One study determined environmental factors affecting the distribution and frequency of CDCs, while the other examined drivers’ knowledge and attitudes about CDCs with a hope of identifying educational opportunities.
Dr. Shawn Riley, assistant professor, Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU said, “The studies were conducted in Oakland, Washtenaw and Monroe counties, which represent a variety of traffic patterns, driver characteristics, land use and deer habitats that exist or will exist in southern Michigan. Less than half of CDCs experienced by questionnaire respondents were reported to either police or insurance companies. This suggests that the actual number of CDCs may be much greater than previously thought.”
Research results also suggest that CDCs are not a random event on the highway and there are steps that can be taken to reduce their frequency. The risk of a CDC is generally greatest on secondary 2-3-lane highways and increases in areas with higher speed limits. Deer density and the number of vehicle miles driven on a highway that crosses through deer habitat combine to increase the likelihood of a CDC.
“Commuters, especially middle-aged male drivers, are most frequently involved in CDCs. Although more CDCs occur at dawn and dusk, the greatest risk of a CDC to individual drivers is in darkness, later at night,” Riley advised. “Drivers should be especially cautious in the fall between October 15 and December 15, as this is the season of greatest deer movement.”
The MDCC says motorists can help avoid dangerous encounters with deer by heeding the following tips:
* Watch for deer especially at dawn and dusk. They are most active then, especially during the fall mating season. In spring, deer will move from cover to find food, and back to cover. Often they will feed along road rights-of-way, where grass greens up first.
* If you see one deer, approach cautiously, as there may be more out of sight. Deer often travel single file, so if you see one cross a road, chances are more are nearby waiting to cross, too. When startled by an approaching vehicle, they can panic and dart out from any direction without warning.
* Be alert all year long, especially on two-lane roads. Watch for deer warning signs. They are placed at known deer-crossing areas and serve as a first alert that deer may be near.
* Slow down when traveling through deer-population areas.