Fewer deer caught in headlights in 2010-11, report finds
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Unlike their gun-toting brethren in the woods, car and truck drivers were less efficient at harvesting deer last season.
State Farm Insurance reported a 7 percent national reduction in deer-vehicle collisions for the year ending June 30, the third straight year of decline.
Pennsylvania easily maintained its No. 1 ranking in total Bambi vs. Buick-type incidents, with 101,299, a 1 percent reduction compared with 2009-10. Michigan was the distant runner-up, with 78,304.
For the fifth straight year, West Virginia held the distinction as the state where an individual driver is most likely to hit a deer, with a 1 in 53 chance -- an improvement over the 1 in 42 chance from the previous year. The Mountain State saw a 22 percent drop in deer-vehicle crashes in 2010-11.
In Pennsylvania, the odds of hitting a deer in the next 12 months are 1 in 86, fourth-highest in the U.S. The national average is 1 in 193, the insurance company said, based on claims data.
And there is this priceless line in the company's news release: "The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii (1 in 6,267). The odds of a Hawaiian driver colliding with a deer between now and 12 months from now are approximately equal to the odds that you are a practicing nudist."
Well, "mahalo" for that.
"Calling attention to potential hazards like this one is part of our DNA," said State Farm vice president Laurette Stiles. "While we can't put our finger directly on what's causing a decline ... we'd like to think media attention to our annual report on this subject has had at least a little bit to do with it."
Local State Farm spokesman Doug Griffith offered a theory, based on his personal observations: The deer are getting smarter.
"They seem to be more aware of their surroundings. You see them on the hillsides but you rarely see them close to the road," he said.
So the silent creatures are somehow spreading the word among themselves? "That's what I'm wondering, if they got a newsletter going," Mr. Griffith said. "Maybe they're on Twitter."
He reported this encounter on a Bethel Park side street recently: A doe crossed the street and waited for her fawn to join her. The fawn stopped and looked both ways before crossing.
"Cracked me up," Mr. Griffith said.
Another possibility is that there are simply fewer deer to mow down. Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates have shown a significant decline in deer population in its wildlife management areas in southwestern Pennsylvania over the past several years.
Incidentally, the state's hunters took 316,240 deer in the 2010-11 season, a 2 percent increase over the previous season, according to the game commission. That meant the likelihood of a deer being felled by a hunter was only about three times that of being struck by a driver.
November, in the heart of mating and migrating season, is the peak month for deer-vehicle collisions, and October is second. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said roughly half of the state's deer-vehicle crashes occur in those two months.
The average damage done in a deer-vehicle crash was $3,171 in 2010-11, the insurance company said. That was up 2.2 percent from the year before.
It gave these safety tips: Be aware of deer crossing signs; remember that deer rush hour is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; use high beams when possible; remember deer typically travel in herds, so if you see one, more are likely to be nearby; if you can't stop, try not to swerve, lest you lose control or cross into oncoming traffic.
Most comprehensive coverage pays fully for deer damage, Mr. Griffith said. That's another reason not to swerve, he said -- if you hit another object, it falls under collision coverage and you have to pay the deductible.
PennDOT asks motorists to report deer carcasses to 1-800-FIX-ROAD (349-7623) if they are posing a safety hazard.
First Published October 11, 2011 12:00 am