Vehicle-deer collisions spike during the fall

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Vehicle-deer crashes spike in the fall, and nowhere in Minnesota are there more of them reported than in Sherburne County.

Sherburne leads the state in the number of reported vehicle-deer collisions with 515 from 2010 to 2012, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. One of those crashes resulted in a fatality and 15 of them caused injuries.

Capt. Scott Fildes of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office said he isn’t sure why Sherburne had the most vehicle-deer crashes in the state. The county has a healthy deer population, as do many counties in the state. The number of vehicle-deer crashes could reflect a reporting difference among agencies, he said.

Wright County, for example, reported 40 vehicle-deer crashes from 2010 to 2012, according to the state report.

Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe said several factors contribute the number of vehicle-versus-deer collisions in the area.

“We have an increasing population and a commuting population, which means more traffic while still having wooded and agricultural land, which means deer habitat,” he said. “Also, as areas develop, hunting opportunities become more restrictive, resulting in increased deer populations.”

His department sees more vehicle-deer collisions in the fall than at other times of the year. Rolfe and others note that fall is the deer breeding season. That, coupled with the presence of hunters in the woods and crop harvest activity, increases deer movement.

In addition, morning and evening rush hour in the fall correlate more closely with dawn and dusk, when deer traditionally are more active.

November is the month during which vehicle-deer encounters are most likely, according to State Farm Insurance. October is the second-most likely month and December is third.

Nationally, Minnesota ranks eighth out of the 50 states where a driver is most likely to run into a deer, according to State Farm. West Virginia topped the list and Hawaii finished last.

Rolfe said even his department’s own officers sometimes hit a deer.

“We have had several squad-involved deer incidents over the years, including one this year when a deer ran into the path of a squad on the ramp from County Road 33 to northbound Highway 169,” he said.

Tips for drivers

Here are some tips from Rolfe to help motorists avoid hitting a deer:

•Pay attention when you are driving, particularly at night. Look beyond your hood ornament.

•Reduce your speed in known deer crossing areas.

•Allow plenty of following distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.

•Watch for movement on roadsides and in ditches. Watch for the tell-tale sign of reflective deer eyes in fields and ditches.

•If a deer runs into your path, brake but don’t attempt radical evasive driving maneuvers, which might cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

Tips for motorcyclists

Here are tips to help motorcyclists, courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:

•Avoid night and low-light riding periods (dusk and dawn) when deer are more active.

•When encountering deer, use both brakes to stop. If riders cannot stop in time, swerve carefully and slowly around the deer if there is space.

•If a collision cannot be avoided, keep head and eyes up to improve chances of keeping the bike up.

•Wear protective gear, especially a Minnesota Department of Transportation-approved helmet.

Fast facts about vehicle-deer crashes

•More than one-third of vehicle-deer crashes reported in Minnesota during the past three years took place in October and November.

•Of the 7,484 vehicle-deer mishaps reported in the state from 2010 to 2012, 16 people died. Fifteen of them were motorcyclists.

•There are an estimated 900,000 to 1 million deer in the state.

•The average amount of property damage to a vehicle due to hitting a deer is $3,305.

Sources: Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, State Farm Insurance

States with the highest likelihood of collision with deer, 2011-2012

1. West Virginia

2. South Dakota

3. Iowa

4. Michigan

5. Pennsylvania

6. Montana

7. Wisconsin

8. Minnesota

9. Arkansas

10. Virginia

Source: State Farm Insurance