If you drive in Mississippi, it’s likely that you’ve hit a deer, witnessed a deer-vehicle collision or had a near-miss with one of these hoofed highway hazards. A drive down any country lane or highway at night in the fall will reveal whole herds of deer grazing near the roadway, their eyes reflecting in your headlights. If you’re lucky, they will just ignore you and keep on munching; if not, you could find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.
Mississippi’s deer population has exploded in recent years, and while that’s great news for hunters or those of us who like deer sausage, it’s not so good if you hit one with your vehicle. The MSU Extension Service estimates there are about 1.75 million whitetail deer in the state, the highest population density in the nation. Therefore, the possibility of hitting a deer is pretty high. Often, deer are hit while they’re trying to cross the road or highway, with little ones trailing closely behind. As a vehicle approaches, they’ll often panic and dart in front of oncoming traffic.
Nationally, the statistics are grim. The Insurance Industry Institute estimates there are about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in about 150 occupant deaths, thousands of injuries and more than a billion dollars in damage. (And it doesn’t usually work out too well for the deer, either.)
McGrath notes the increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours, coupled with the fact deer move around a lot more during the fall. Insurance claims for deer collisions increase dramatically from October through November each year, note industry experts. According to a 2014 Insurance Industry Institute study, most damage claims (87 percent) submitted to insurance companies are for damage to the front of the vehicle, followed by the driver’s side, passenger side and rear.
So, until your car is smart enough to figure out if you’re about to hit a deer and make you safe, the job is up to you and me. MDOT has these tips for avoiding crashes:
- Don’t swerve. “Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle, causing an even more serious accident,” MDOT notes.
- Remember that deer are herd animals that live in families, so if you see one, watch for others.
- Pay attention when driving at dawn and dusk. About 20 percent of crashes occur in early morning, while more than half occur between 5 p.m. and midnight, MDOT advises.
- Wear your seat belts and drive at a safe, sensible speed.
- If possible, use high beams at night when no traffic is approaching. This will illuminate deer eyes better.
“No matter if a driver is traveling rural roads or busy highways, the threat of hitting a deer while driving is very real,” McGrath noted. “All motorists should take extra precautions during deer season to ensure their safety while traveling.”