With an estimated 50,000 deer-car collisions annually in Georgia, leaders of the state’s wildlife, highway safety and insurance agencies are urging caution when driving because of the increased deer sightings in autumn months.
“Deer are on the move during this time of year,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams. “While motorists in rural areas may expect to see deer, Georgia’s suburban and urban areas can be prime spots as well.”
More than 300 people were injured when vehicles collided with deer in 2011, according to data provided by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
A total of 1,000 people across the country died in similar accidents between 2006 and 2010, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“While deer are beautiful to watch in their natural environment, they can be unpredictable hazards for motorists on Georgia’s roads, especially now during their fall breeding season,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “These hazards just underline the need for motorists to observe posted speed limits and wear their seatbelts.”Even when passengers of a vehicle escape a collision with a deer unharmed, there are consequences.
“Automobile claims caused by contact with a deer generally rise dramatically in the fall,” said Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens. “I encourage all Georgia drivers to check their automobile policy to determine if they have adequate coverage. This optional protection is commonly found in the comprehensive coverage of an automobile policy.”
Locally, Allstate Insurance agent Alisha Windom said she gets between 30-50 cases of deer collisions each year.
“I get a lot of people who say, ‘I didn’t hit the deer — the deer hit me,’” Windom said. “Because the deer sometimes actively run into their cars.”
Windom echoed Hudgens, saying deer collisions are covered in the comprehensive policy her office offers.
“These accidents can cause several thousand dollars worth of damage,” Windom said. “They can be very dangerous, and people should be careful when they’re are more deer out there.”
As for the reason behind the increased amount of collisions, a biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division points out three key factors.
“Hunting is oftentimes mistakenly blamed for increased deer-car collisions, but there are natural and human causes for their activity.” says Don McGowan, senior biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. “Changes in seasons and other factors lead to increased wildlife sightings.”
He cited three key factors:
• Mating season: Deer mating season occurs between October and early December. Male deer go into rut and begin actively searching for mates. This greatly contributes to the increased movement of deer, bringing them across roadways.
• Increased human population and rural development: As the human population continues to grow and expand into traditionally rural areas, deer lose their natural food source and consequently move into new areas in search of food and water.
• Time changes: As we get closer to “falling back” for daylight savings time, our days become shorter and nights become longer. Rush hour for most commuters tends to fall during the same hours in which white-tailed deer are most active — dawn and dusk.The state agencies offer motorists some tips and information to help avoid potential collisions:
• Unpredictable: Always remember deer are wild, and therefore, can be unpredictable. A deer calmly standing on the side of a road may bolt into or across the road rather than away from it when startled by a vehicle.
• One deer usually means more: Take caution and slow down when a deer crosses. Deer generally travel in groups, so if one crosses, be prepared that others may follow.
• Time of day: As deer are most active at dawn and dusk, they typically are seen roadside during the early morning and late evening — the same times most people are commuting to and from work.
• Time of year: While deer-car collisions can occur any time of year, the fall breeding season is a peak time for such accidents. Road shoulders generally provide green food both during extremely dry times of the year and following a long, hard winter.
• Minimize damage: If it is too late to avoid a collision, drivers are advised to slow down as much as possible to minimize damage. Resist the urge to swerve to avoid the deer — this may cause further damage, sending drivers off the road or causing a collision with another vehicle. If an accident occurs, alert the police as soon as possible.