Drivers Beware When Deer Search for Mates

Paula Reid was cruising at the speed limit on U.S. 460 in Virginia, near Montvale, her big BMW sedan slicing through the dark highway’s miles.

Then, thwack.

“Out of nowhere she hit me,” Reid, 49, of Roanoke said of the doe that darted across two oncoming lanes of traffic and the median before crashing into her car. “They are everywhere, and you never know when they will hit.”

The wreck’s cost: about $3,500, mostly paid by her insurance.

With deer mating season in full swing through December, sex-crazed deer leap across the highways — and anything else that comes between bucks and does — sparking an annual surge in deer-versus-car crashes. State Farm Insurance, the biggest U.S. auto insurer, estimates 2.3 million U.S. deer collisions in the past two years, up 21 percent from five years ago.

Virginians hit about 52,000 deer last year, 7 percent more than the year before and a 28 percent increase over five years, State Farm said.

The number of reports of deer-versus-car crashes is declining, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. In Roanoke County, for example, DMV logged 111 crashes with deer in 2009, down from 142 the year before.

The likely reason for the difference is that many motorists don’t call police when they hit a deer.

The number of deer carcasses left along the roads for Department of Transportation workers to collect is increasing. VDOT collected 470 dead deer from Roanoke County roadways in 2009, up from 462 the year before. The state collected 798 deer carcasses in Botetourt County in 2009, compared with 737 in 2008.

“Bucks are moving the most because they are seeking out potential female mates,” said Nelson Lafon, deer project coordinator at the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “An increase in movement means increased collisions on the roadways.”

Deer collisions also are related to time spent driving, Lafon said.

“The more miles we drive, the more chance of an accident happening,” he said.

Thinning the region’s deer population stands to reduce the chance for accidents.

A state program that began in 2008 requires hunters in Roanoke County and seven other Virginia counties to kill at least one antlerless deer before they can shoot a second buck.

Virginia hunters killed a record 260,000 deer last year, about 30,000 more than the 10-year average, said Matt Knox, head of the state deer management program. He credits Virginia’s earn-a-buck program with reducing the deer population.

Still, Knox warned motorists to be especially careful during dawn and dusk hours, when deer are most active.

“The truth is we are never going to get rid of them,” Knox said. “So you just have to be vigilant.”

Dean Martin, owner of Cave Spring Auto Body, said deer wrecks have been bringing him four or five cars a week, more than in years past. Roads in Hunting Hills and Starkey are particularly bad, he said.

Martin’s advice to drivers: Don’t swerve, just hit the deer.

“It’s easier to hit the deer instead of swerving into a ditch” and incurring more costly damage, he said. Paula Reid was among Martin’s customers.

“It was my first time hitting a deer,” Reid said. “I wish I could have avoided it. But the deer hit me.”