Autumn brings greater risk of accidents involving deer

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Three crashes, two of them fatal, a national study and state statistics have underscored the arrival of a dangerous time of year -- deer vs. motorist season.

The most recent crash killed Justin T. Malik, 17, of Herminie, early Thursday. He was a passenger in a car that went out of control when a deer ran in front of it on Arona Road in New Stanton just after 1 a.m. The car hit a tree and continued into a cyclone fence.

On Wednesday, a deer bounded from an embankment and crashed through the windshield of a UPS truck in Greensburg. The animal thrashed about in the cabin, causing the driver to lose control and crash on Route 30, police said.

Earlier this month, Daniel Grissom, 34, of Homer City, died when his car hit the carcass of a deer that was knocked into his lane by another car, deflecting him into the path of an oncoming truck on Route 422 in Armstrong County.

The driver in Wednesday's crash, identified as Justin Kubecki, 29, of Greensburg, was not seriously hurt but was disoriented and taken to a hospital as a precaution, according to state police.

It could've been much worse, Trooper Steve Limani said.

"I've had crashes where deer go through windshields and people don't survive," he said. "This had the potential for him to hit other vehicles."

PG graphic: Likelihood of hitting a deer
(Click image for larger version)

This is the time of year when deer-vehicle crashes rise significantly, and Trooper Limani recommended extra caution. An important rule, he said: "Don't swerve. Use your brakes. That's it."

After three years of decline, crashes involving deer increased in Pennsylvania and nationally for the year ended June 30, according to State Farm Insurance's annual report on the issue, published this week.

The nation saw a 7.7 percent increase in deer vs. vehicle collisions for the year, and in Pennsylvania, crashes increased by 9 percent, the company reported. While the Keystone State had the most deer-related crashes in the U.S., with 115,751, West Virginia was the state where a driver was most likely to hit one.

West Virginia drivers had a 1 in 40 chance of striking a deer, leading the nation for the sixth consecutive year; in Pennsylvania, the odds were 1 in 76, slightly higher than the year before and fifth in the nation. Nationwide, the chances were 1 in 171.

State Farm, the nation's largest auto insurer, uses its claims data to project the totals. It noted that the rise in deer-vehicle collisions came as overall accident claims dropped by 8.5 percent.

Spokesman Dave Phillips said the company publishes the data to raise awareness heading into November, the worst month for deer-vehicle crashes.

Mating and hunting seasons and the impending end of daylight-saving time create the "perfect formula" for trouble, he said.

Experts say drivers need to be especially aware around dawn and in the late afternoon and early evening, when deer movement is at its highest.

The average crash caused $3,305 in damage, up 4.4 percent from the year before, State Farm reported. Mr. Phillips noted that policyholders who buy only the state minimum, without comprehensive coverage, are not insured against vehicle damage caused by striking an animal.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were 182 reportable deer-vehicle crashes in Allegheny County in 2011, up from 171 the year before. In both of those years, there were no fatalities but 31 people were injured. Crashes have increased every year since 2007.

The number of calls placed to PennDOT for removal of deer carcasses illustrates the seasonal spike in casualties. In August 2011, crews picked up 70 fallen deer in Allegheny County; the number rose to 104 in September, 195 in October and 476 in November before falling back to 234 in December 2011, said Steve Cowan, safety press officer for PennDOT District 11.

Statewide, there were 3,403 reportable deer-vehicle collisions with nine fatalities and 679 injured in 2011. Those totals were up from the previous year's totals of 3,161 crashes, eight killed and 644 injured. Crashes are reportable only if there is injury or one or more vehicles must be towed.

"We want people to expect the unexpected," Mr. Cowan said. "Deer do strange things at this time of the year."

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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