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Deer and vehicles: Now is the time to be extra careful


November is a time when Shelter Island quiets down and the season when calendars are marked for festive winter holidays. It’s also a time of deer/vehicle crashes, which those who have had the experience will tell you is nothing to look forward to.

Last year, Shelter Island Animal Control Officer Beau Payne recorded 30 deer/vehicle crashes, representing nearly 30 percent of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) for the year. That percentage is consistent with other years. From 2006 to 2017, the Shelter Island Police Department counted accidents involving deer as 27 percent of all MVAs.

We’re not alone with these dangerous and expensive events. Consumer Reports published data last month that projected there will be “1.3 million large animal strikes this year [mostly deer] … These collisions can be fatal to the animals, but the most recent data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that 189 people were killed in crashes … in 2016.”

West Virginia has the highest rate of deer/vehicle crashes, where your chance of an accident in the Mountaineer State is one in 46, according to Consumer Reports. If you want to stay safe, move to Hawaii, where you’ll have just a one in 6,379 chance of hitting something large and on the move.

Deer crashes put big dents in pocketbooks. The Federal Highway Administration estimates the average cost of repairing a vehicle after colliding with a deer at $1,840. But that goes up significantly if there are medical costs and tow truck costs are included.

Island drivers are twice as likely from now until December to hit a buck or doe than any other time of the year, according to Officer Beau Payne.

And it’s all because of sex.


As Officer Payne noted, whitetail deer only mate once a year and, you guessed it, they’re up to it right now.

“Mating, or rutting behavior typically begins in the later parts of October, usually peaks by mid-November, and may last into the later parts of December,” he said.

Sex-crazed bucks are “on the move nearly this entire time,” Officer Payne said, looking for receptive does and ardently pursuing and defending any potential mate.

The result is deer procreation, but also the riot of hormones boosts the odds dramatically that the pursuer and the pursued “end up crossing a road with little else on their minds,” Officer Payne said.

What can drivers do to prevent or lower the risk of a deer/vehicle crash?
Deer are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn, so the no-brainer is to take it especially slow during those times. Officer Payne noted that travelling along narrow, two-lane roads with bushes, hedges and trees along both sides make it more likely to have a deer/vehicle crash.

“Unfortunately, most roads on the Island fit this description,” he said.

But easing off the accelerator will help.


Slow down and try not to swerve. “The instinct to swerve may be hard to fight, but better to hit the deer than a utility pole, oncoming traffic, or something else,” Officer Payne said.


Stay in the vehicle until help arrives. As Officer Payne pointed out, most likely it will be dark and “other drivers may not see you popping in and out around the car, looking for damage or examining the deer. In my experience, seeing the deer or the damage right away rarely makes the driver feel any better.”


The police, as soon as you can. You have just had a motor vehicle accident.
What if the animal is alive?

“Again, stay in the vehicle and call the police,” Officer Payne advises.

Deer are large, wild animals, and can often act unpredictably “particularly if injured or frightened,” he said.

In addition, there is little a driver can do for an injured deer. When a police officer arrives, he or she will determine if the animal “must be dispatched and make the appropriate arrangements for its removal,” Officer Payne said.

And if you and your passengers are not injured, thank your lucky stars.