(Photo courtesy of Amy Miller via Will County Wildlife)
The peak mating season for deer is approaching, and one of the unfortunate side effects of that is more collisions with them on our roadways.
The peak mating season – called a rut – for white-tailed deer across Illinois is late October to mid-November. During this time, deer tend to move about more freely, causing an uptick in collisions with vehicles. Collisions with vehicles is second only to hunting in causes of deer mortality in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Fall is the season with the most vehicle crashes involving deer, with more than 40% occurring in October, November and December, IDNR reported in a news release. November is the month with the highest risk of striking a deer while driving.
Deer collisions in the fall are enough of a public safety problem that the state has devised a driving strategy to help keep drivers safe: “Don’t veer for deer.”
A driver’s instinct is to swerve out of the way of a deer that darts out into the roadway, but that action can cause a more severe crash if the driver hits another vehicle. Drivers should instead fight that instinct, even if it means hitting the deer, according to the both IDNR and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Deer are crepuscular, which means they are more active at dusk and dawn. Because of this, most accidents with deer happen between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to the University of Illinois Extension's Wildlife Illinois.
In 2018, 15,636 motor vehicle crashes in Illinois involved deer, according to an IDNR news release. Of these, 14,998 caused damage to property or vehicles, while 630 also resulted in injuries. Eight of the crashes were fatal.
The state advises drivers to take note of deer crossing road signs, as these indicate areas where deer are more likely to be seen. Of course, avoiding hitting the deer is always the best option, and the state has some tips for drivers to make them more aware and help them steer clear of collisions:
- Slow down if you see a deer. They often travel in groups, so if you see one it’s likely others are nearby.
- Scan the sides of the road for the shining eyes of deer. Their eyes will reflect your headlights, so you may see them before they enter the roadway.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. Deer often stop in the road or change directions and double back. Even if you think the coast is clear, proceed with caution.
In the event you do hit a deer, pull your car off to the shoulder if possible and turn on your hazard lights, the state advises. Call 911 to report the accident and request emergency assistance. Do not exit your car to try to check on the deer or remove it from the road.
“Deer-vehicle collisions can happen in any part of the state — urban or rural,” IDNR Director Colleen Callahan said in a news release. “If you do hit a deer, remember to report the accident to local law enforcement or a conservation police officer. They can help control traffic, clear the roadway or in the event that the animal must be euthanized.”
Collisions with deer are most common in rural areas of Illinois, but many counties with urban, suburban and rural areas are among those with frequent deer-vehicle collisions. Will County ranks fourth on the list of counties with crashes involving deer, with 374 recorded in 2018, according to IDNR and IDOT. The county with the most deer collisions was Cook County, with 476.
Although it may seem like Illinois is a common site for deer collisions, it’s not even in the top 10 among states, according to State Farm's annual deer-vehicle collision study. Illinois ranks 34th, but surrounding states rank much higher, with Iowa fifth, Wisconsin seventh and Michigan eighth.
And while fall is the time drivers are most likely to encounter deer on roadways, spring also poses problems. Around May and June each year, mother deer and their fawns start moving about more, and the young deer often move to new areas, posing risks near roads, according to Wildlife Illinois.
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