It’s a scenario familiar to all Shelter Island drivers, whether from personal experience, a near miss or just a healthy caution: that startling moment when a deer bolts out in front of a moving car.
Former town Animal Control Officer Beau Payne, for a previous story in the Reporter, said that 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,” Officer Payne said.
Sex-crazed bucks are “on the move nearly this entire time,” he 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.
Last year in New York State, there were nearly 37,000 car crashes where an “animal’s actions” was listed as a contributing factor, and most of those were deer strikes, according to DMV data compiled by AAA Northeast.
According to the Shelter Island Police Department, the number of motor vehicle accidents involving deer has remained remarkably stable over the last three years, but the number is still very high.
From Jan. 1 of this year through November, there were 21 accidents; for the same period last year there were also 21; and from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, 2021, there were 19 accidents.
Suffolk County ranked sixth among the state’s 62 counties with the most animal-involved crashes — 1,216 — in 2022. In 2021, the county was home to the second-most-documented animal collisions.
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.
If a deer does run out in front of a car, the best thing for a driver to do is not to swerve, experts said. Instead, hit the brakes and honk the horn, which may be enough to startle the animal out of the way. If a crash is inevitable, the best course is to steer into the deer.
“Drivers should never swerve to avoid any animal, especially on country roads,” AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said. The reason is simple: Swerving to the right could send the car into a ditch, tree or telephone pole, while swerving left could result in a deadly head-on crash with an oncoming vehicle.
“While it’s not desirable, hitting a deer is better than hitting a tree,” Mr. Sinclair said.
The most dangerous hours are near dusk, when dwindling sunlight and a darkening landscape make it especially hard to see animals. 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.
Traveling along narrow, two-lane roads with bushes, hedges and trees along both sides make it more likely to have a deer/vehicle crash, and unfortunately, most roads on the Island fit this description.
Mild winters in recent years have limited temperature-related stress and mortality among area deer, and no outbreaks of epizootic hermorrhagic disease have been recently detected in local populations, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages deer numbers throughout the state by issuing permits during regulated hunting seasons.
While human fatalities from deer strikes are rare, an SUV traveling east on Northern Parkway in Plainview earlier this month reportedly burst into flames after striking a deer that bolted in front of the vehicle. The driver and passenger escaped without injury.
AAA Northeast recommends that to protect against deer strikes, drivers should scan the shoulders of the road, stay within the speed limit and keep their high beams on when there’s no oncoming traffic. Rounding curves with limited visibility also requires vigilance and caution.
If a crash does occur, move the vehicle to a safe location and contact the police, Mr. Sinclair said, and take photographs of the damage when possible. Deer strikes generally fall under comprehensive coverage, so drivers should contact their insurance companies as soon as possible.