Press-Republican

October 22, 2012

It's the time of year for deer

Drivers should take care as breeding season peaks

By MIRANDA ORSO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — It’s the time of year to take extra care to watch out for deer on local roadways.

Beginning in October, the peak of deer-breeding season starts bringing the animals out of the woods and into the roads, causing potentially serious collisions, according to Cornell University natural-resources professor Paul Curtis. 

Since 1990, he has coordinated the Wildlife Damage Management Program for Cornell Cooperative Extension. Curtis understands the dangers of the animal’s annual breeding peak.

“About two-thirds of the deer-car collisions that occur each year in New York happen during October, November and December,” he reported.

CHASED BY BUCKS

In New York, Curtis said, the accidents are at their peak during early November as female deer are being chased by bucks looking to breed, making them less than attentive to oncoming traffic.

“With this additional deer movement during breeding season, deer cross highways more frequently, increasing the probability of collisions with cars,” he said.

“In addition, with shorter days this time of year, the normal peak in deer movement near dusk and dawn coincides with rush-hour commuter traffic.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports about 1 million car accidents involving deer across the country annually, resulting in 200 fatalities and about 10,000 injuries to drivers and passengers.

The administration estimates the accidents cause nearly $1 billion in damages to vehicles.

ONE MEANS MORE

The State Department of Transportation is continuing to work with the Department of Environmental Conservation and Thruway Authority to ensure roads that are frequently crossed by deer are clearly marked with plenty of warning signs.

But being cautious sometimes isn’t enough, said Sgt. Frank Mercier of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.

He’s had a few run-ins, literally, with deer while on patrol and in his own car.

Mercier hit a four-point buck near the Champlain Centre mall and also had to dodge a deer that ran into this patrol car near the missile silo in Saranac.

“It’s important to remember that these are herd animals,” he said. “If you see one by or in the roadway, slow down and look because there’s probably more.”

Through grants from the New York State Sheriff’s Association, Mercier has worked since 2008 to share safety tips with the public to help them possibly avoid an accident with a deer.

“It was an issue then, and it still is,” he added.

LOCAL CRASH NUMBERS

State DMV’s most recent reports, from 2006, show accident numbers for Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

In Clinton County, 183 accidents involved animals out of a total of 1,081 reported, making up 16.9 percent of the total. Of the 183 collisions with animals, 28 resulted in personal injury and 155 in property damage.

Accidents involving animals were higher in Essex County, with 153 cases out of 629 total accidents, comprising 24.3 percent of the total collisions in 2006, with 16 personal-injury and 137 property-damage accidents.

Out of 798 reported accidents in Franklin County, 205 involved car-animal collisions for a total of 25.7 percent of accidents, with 25 resulting in personal injury and 180 reported as property damage only.

SLOW DOWN

As a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell, Lynne Irwin knows roads and how dangerous a deer-car collision can be.

Drivers should practice vigilance and slow their speed, he said, but there is little else that can be done to avoid an accident.

“By slowing down they reduce the chances that a vehicle occupant will be seriously injured in the event of a deer-vehicle collision,” Irwin said.

Everyone agrees that the two hours before sunrise and after sunset are the most dangerous hours for drivers and deer in the roadways.

WEATHER A FACTOR

Irwin said drivers should pay extra attention when weather becomes a factor.

“Rainy days are a problem due to the reduced visibility, poor lighting and lower pavement skid resistance. It is especially important to slow down and be alert in such conditions,” he said.

“Snowy days are less of a concern, because the deer hunker down and don’t move as much.”

The experts also agree that the knee-jerk reaction of swerving to avoid striking a deer can be more dangerous than just hitting the animal instead.

“The advice to not swerve the vehicle is important when confronted by a deer. The best place to hit a deer is in the flanks. The rib bones in the flanks are more flexible and vehicular damage is minimized,” Irwin added.

“Swerving the vehicle can risk rollover accidents and possibly hit an oncoming vehicle or roadside object.”

DOT also says it is important to always make sure everyone is wearing seat belts, use high beams when possible and briefly flash lights to alert other drivers when deer are spotted near the road.

Email Miranda Orso:

morso@pressrepublican.com