Drivers urged to look out for deer this fall, winter

Road Commission, MSP kick off deer driver safety campaigns

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published November 30, 2020

 The city of Rochester Hills began placing temporary electronic signs with the message “High Deer Crash Area, Use Caution” in hotspots for deer across the city in recent years.

The city of Rochester Hills began placing temporary electronic signs with the message “High Deer Crash Area, Use Caution” in hotspots for deer across the city in recent years.

File photo by Donna Agusti

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Motorists should be on high alert for deer in the roadway this fall and winter, as the deer population becomes more active.

“This is the mating season for deer, so the bucks are chasing does, and they’re more likely to just dart across the road,” said Rochester Hills Naturalist Lance DeVoe. 

Each year, there are nearly 50,000 deer-car crashes reported in Michigan, according to the Michigan State Police. In 2019, the number of vehicle-deer crashes statewide increased by 10% from 2018, with 55,531 incidents — a 10-year high statewide. 

Leading the state for the highest number of vehicle-deer crashes in 2019 is once again Oakland County, with 1,928 crashes, according to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts data. 

“Oakland County is usually either the top or very near the top in the number of deer-car crashes in the state. It’s a real issue in this county,” said Craig Bryson, the spokesperson for the Road Commission for Oakland County.

With almost 50% of those deer-car crashes occurring in October, November and December, officials are reminding drivers across the county to keep an eye out for deer on the road.

“First and foremost, (adhere to) the old adage, ‘Don’t Veer for Deer,’” Bryson said. “If you see a deer come out in front of you, try to break gradually and slowly, don’t try to veer into the oncoming traffic or veer off the road. That’s the most dangerous thing people can do. This time of year, deer are all over the place.”

Rochester Hills led the county with 172 vehicle-deer crashes, followed by Farmington Hills with 116 and Oakland Township with 109. Rochester had 12 reported vehicle-deer crashes in 2019. 

DeVoe, who sits on the Rochester Hills Deer Management Advisory Committee, said the all-time high for vehicle-deer crashes in the city was in 2007, with 219 reported accidents. In response, Rochester Hills created the Deer Management Advisory Committee to review deer-related car crash statistics, as well as the city’s annual deer count surveys, and to make recommendations regarding the overpopulation of deer. The committee also works every year to raise awareness of safety, hosts deer gardening seminars and more.

Since the advisory committee was created, DeVoe said, the city has hovered around 150 car-deer crashes; however, the latest deer-related crash report shows an increase in incidents over the last year — from 151 in 2018 to 172 in 2019. 

This fall, Rochester Hills officials are once again reminding drivers to be on the lookout for deer by placing temporary electronic signs with the message “Deer Crash Area, Use Caution” in deer hotspots across the city.

DeVoe said the city’s hotspots include Tienken, Adams, Avon and Rochester roads; Walton Boulevard; and M-59.

He urges motorists to slow down.

“The biggest thing is speed. Deer are very seldom ever hit in a neighborhood or subdivision because the speed limit is 25 mph. That’s why M-59 is a car-deer road, because the speed is higher. Just slowing down and looking for them, especially at dawn and dusk when they are most active, would be helpful,” DeVoe said.

 About 80% of deer-vehicle crashes occur on two-lane roads between dusk and dawn, according to the Michigan State Police. When startled by an approaching vehicle, deer can panic and dart out from any direction without warning.

DeVoe said drivers should slow down in deer-populated areas because if they spot one deer, chances are there are others nearby. 

“If you do see one, they very seldom travel alone,” he said. “So if one crosses the road and you speed back up to your normal speed, you should be aware that there is likely to be another one, or more, following it.”

Flashing high-beam headlights or honking the horn won’t deter deer, so if a crash is unavoidable, officials urge motorists not to swerve. The most serious crashes occur when motorists swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or a fixed object, or when their vehicle rolls over. 

“If a deer runs across the road … your instinct is going to be to swerve, but just breaking and staying in your lane is the best thing you can do,” DeVoe said.

Instead of veering, officials recommend braking firmly, holding on to the steering wheel, staying in your lane and bringing your vehicle to a controlled stop. City and state officials also remind motorists to buckle up, as seat belts are people’s best defense in the event of a crash. 

To learn more about deer safety or for information about gardening to deter deer, visit rochesterhills.org/deer or call (248) 656-4673.

For a complete report on vehicle-deer crashes across the state, visit the Michigan Office Of Highway Safety Planning’s Michigan Traffic Control Crash Facts website at https://www.michigantrafficcrashfacts.org.

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