Deer: a seasonal driving hazard

November means it's the time of year where we start focusing a lot on preparing drivers for weather-related hazards. Studded tires are always a hot topic, the closing of mountain passes garners a lot of attention, as does the general anticipation /speculation of what this year's winter weather will bring. But we often overlook the fact that deer are a seasonal driving hazard as well. November is prime time for road kill—deer in particular. We remove approximately 3,000 deer carcasses from state highways every year with most vehicle collisions involving deer happening during the months of October- January.

Why is this?

1. Hunting season. Deer may ramp up their movement to avoid hunters, this act of self-preservation increases the likelihood that they will be wandering around near or crossing highways.

2. Food. The colder temperatures bring deer down from higher elevations to the valley floors in search ripe tree fruit and ornamental bushes. 

3. The rut. The what? This was a new term for me actually, but the rut is simply the breeding season. Does start to chase off their young and these suddenly abandoned youth wander around in search of direction. Ah...teenagers...some things never change, eh?

The rut signals an increase in deer movement as bucks and does are on the go searching for potential mates.  They are particularly active during dawn and dusk, which as we all know are peak driving times. So we've got less daylight, more precipitation, less visibility, and more deer running around increasing the chance of a vehicle-deer collision.

What can you do?

The first step is to be aware that this time of year is going to mean an uptick in deer activity. I have had my fair share of deer exposure all summer, trying to keep them from decimating my tomato plants, so I personally wasn't aware that road kill have seasons too.  I found some fantastic tips from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help with driving and deer:
  • One deer crossing the road may be a sign that more deer are about to cross. Watch for other deer-- they will move fast to catch up with leaders, mothers, or mates and may not pay attention to traffic.
  • When you see brake lights, it could be because the driver ahead of you has spotted a deer. Stay alert as you drive by the spot, as more deer could try to cross.
  • Wonder why the person ahead is driving so slowly? The driver may know where to slow down and be extra alert for deer. Don’t be too quick to pass, and watch out.
  • Take note of deer-crossing signs and drive accordingly. They were put there for a reason.
  • If a collision with a deer seems imminent, take your foot off the accelerator and brake lightly. But—and this is critical—keep a firm hold on the steering wheel while keeping the vehicle straight. Do not swerve in an attempt to miss the deer.
Do not attempt to touch the animal AT ALL – even if it appears to be dead. Often, the animal is only temporarily stunned and people who attempt to move the animal have been seriously injured by antlers and sharp hooves. Always keep in mind that scared and injured animals are extremely dangerous. Call 9-1-1 to get the right people on the scene to help with the situation.

For a more detailed and thorough look at this issue check out the Analysis of Deer and Elk-Vehicle Collision Sites along State Highways in Washington State.