Oakland County tops list of most deer-car crashes in Michigan

Motorists advised to be wary of deer on the roadways

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published November 21, 2022

 Police are warning motorists, “Don’t veer for deer.”

Police are warning motorists, “Don’t veer for deer.”

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Motorists across the state should be extra cautious behind the wheel and be on the lookout for deer for the next few months.

Each year, there are nearly 50,000 deer-car crashes reported in Michigan, according to the Michigan State Police, with  the majority of vehicle-deer crashes occurring in the late fall and early winter.

In 2021, Michigan State Police reported 52,218 vehicle crashes involving deer across Michigan, resulting in 10 deaths. That’s up from 51,103 deer-car accidents resulting in five deaths in 2020. Four of the 10 deaths in 2021 were occupants in motor vehicles and six were motorcyclists. Another 1,449 people were injured. Last year, Oakland County reported the most deer-vehicle crashes of any county in the state with 1,853 incidents, followed by Kent County with 1,810, Jackson County with 1,544, Ottawa County with 1,391, Lapeer County with 1,355, Allegan County with 1,288, Genesee County with 1,254, Calhoun County with 1,247, Kalamazoo County with 1,137, and Washtenaw County with 1,080.

In Michigan, vehicle-deer crashes are expensive, causing more than $130 million in damage annually.

October, November and December are typically the months with the most car-deer crashes in Michigan, according to 1st Lt. Michael Shaw, the public information officer for the second district of the Michigan State Police.

“Naturally, that coincides with both the mating season of the deer and also Michigan’s bow-and-arrow and firearm deer season, which runs Nov. 15-30,” he said. “We just recommend that people pay attention to their surroundings as they are driving and expect to see deer. While we may think that we don’t see deer that often, and that it’s more of an Up North thing, Oakland County is actually the highest county with car-deer crashes, so there are a large amount of deer that are in Oakland County.”   

In November of 2021, there were more than 9,000 auto accidents involving deer, and authorities said those incidents were most likely to occur between 6 and 9 a.m. and 6 and 9 p.m. on weekdays.   

Erin McDonough, the executive director of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, said deer are more active in the fall, especially at dawn and dusk, so it’s really important for drivers to be on the lookout for deer.

“Injuries and fatalities from collisions can be avoided if drivers are alert while driving and follow some safety tips,” McDonough said in a statement.

Seat belts are motorists’ best defense in the event of a car crash, including those involving deer.

Officials said motorists should also slow down when traveling through deer-populated areas and always be on the lookout for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. Because deer often travel single file, if you see one, you should approach cautiously, as it’s likely more are nearby waiting to cross.

“You can imagine that if there is one deer that’s crossing the road, there are probably two or three behind it, because they tend to travel in groups across the roadway,” Shaw explained.

When startled by an approaching vehicle, deer can panic and dart out from any direction.

If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, authorities say not to swerve.

“I know it’s a natural instinct that we don’t want to hit the deer, but, unfortunately, veering to try to avoid the deer usually causes more serious crashes by drivers losing control and maybe hitting another car or maybe going off the roadway,” Shaw said.

Instead, officials suggest braking firmly, holding onto the steering wheel with both hands, coming to a controlled stop and then proceeding to steer your vehicle off the roadway. Motorists should then report the crash to the nearest police agency and their insurance companies.

“Usually, the deer is going to jump up and take off into the wood line. If they don’t and you want to keep the deer — which you are entitled to in Michigan — if you hit a deer, you can also contact 911, and a trooper or an officer will come out and give you the permit that’s needed to carry that deer,” Shaw said.

The Rochester area sees its fair share of deer-car crashes, according to Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm.

“We see deer often, especially during those times around dawn and dusk,” Schettenhelm said.

Rochester Hills city naturalist Lance DeVoe, who sits on the city’s Deer Management Advisory Committee, said the city of Rochester Hills is once again reminding drivers to not veer for deer by placing temporary electronic signs with the message “Deer Crash Area, Use Caution” in deer hot spots across the city through December. The city’s hot spots, he said, include Tienken, Adams, Avon and Rochester roads; Walton Boulevard; and M-59.