Illinois Parks & Recreation
November / December 1995 • Volume 26, Number 6
Our Natural Resources
An Ounce of Prevention
by Anne Mueller
The sight of a white-tailed deer can spark a rush of adrenaline in a hunter and lend a deeper appreciation for nature to anyone on an outdoor excursion. But for a motorist, a glimpse of a deer along a roadway can be a prelude to a costly, and sometimes fatal, accident.
According to Illinois Department of Transportation summaries, deer-vehicle collisions statewide increased by more
This is the time of year when Illinois whitetails get randy, and Illinois drivers have to get careful than 300 percent from 1982-1994. with 17,118 accidents reported last year. The accidents claimed five human lives in 1994, and a total of 18 in the five years preceding that. In addition to the human equation, insurance companies report the average insurance claim for deer-vehicle collisions is about $1,600.
Understanding the factors involved — the time of year, the time of day, the locations and circumstances in which collisions are most likely to occur— may help motorists from adding to the accident statistics.
Paul Shelton, forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says several factors come into play in assessing the numbers.
"Illinois' deer population continues to increase in certain parts of the state, although the rate of increase has declined substantially within the last several years," Shelton says. "In addition, urban and suburban areas are encroaching into areas used by deer, resulting in more conflicts as deer move from one habitat area to another in the course of their day."
Department of Transportation data show that more than a fourth of all accidents typically occur in November. The three-month span of October, November and December usually accounts for about half of the yearly deer-vehicle accident total and corresponds with the whitetails' annual breeding season or "rut." During this time, bucks are preoccupied with pursuing does and may be oblivious to vehicles.
Another peak in accidents occurs in May and June when females are preparing to give birth. Pregnant does often exhibit antagonistic behavior toward their young of the previous year, and are especially intent on driving males away from the place where they grew up. These young deer are unfamiliar with the location of roads and other manmade structures as they disperse to establish their own home range in new surroundings. Spring not only sees a high incidence of year-old deer becoming road kill, but it's also the season when young whitetails sometimes end up in industrial parks, shopping centers, downtown areas and other places with high vehicular traffic.
Along with the rut occurring each fall, crops are out of the fields by No-
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vember, causing deer to find additional areas to use as refuge sites, bedding areas and feeding sites. Riparian areas— habitats adjacent to rivers, streams and lakes—often are used by deer as corridors to conduct their daily movements, as are fence rows, field edges and small woodlots. When these areas intersect a roadway, they offer a prime zone for a collision to occur between a car and deer.
Data show that most deer-vehicle accidents, particularly in the autumn, occur between 5-10 p.m., then rise again in the hours between 5-8 a.m. This correlates with whitetails being "crepuscular" animals—most active during the hours around dusk and dawn as they go to and from their feeding areas. Unfortunately, it also coincides with suburban and urban rush hours as motorists travel to and from work. Commuters should know the potential for colliding with deer is highest around sunrise and sunset and remains high as darkness obscures the animals during nighttime hours.
The Department has looked at deer- vehicle accident "hot spots" —locations having the highest number of collisions—and found ninety-three road segments in forty-two counties containing at least one area where high numbers of deer and vehicles collide. The analysis specifically looked at the number of collisions associated with certain variables:
riparian corridors; recreational areas, including fish and wildlife areas, state parks and forest preserves; and urban-suburban areas, other than those in the Chicago metropolitan counties of Cook, Lake, Kane and DuPage. It identified ten counties as having a significant number of high deer-vehicle accident locations;
McHenry, Jackson, Will, Winnebago, Williamson, Crawford, Ogle, Peny, Peoria and Sangamon.
But Shelton says motorists should make a habit of recognizing potential areas for deer-vehicle conflicts, no matter what part of the state they travel.
"As commuters drive their familiar routes to and from work, they should look for areas that offer a high chance for deer being present," Shelton says.
"They can notice where they see deer, and where they see dead deer by the side of the road, and anticipate these areas by slowing down and driving more cautiously each time they come to them. More accidents could be avoided if commuters were on guard for deer being in certain locations."
Shelton says there are several things a driver can do to avoid an accident:
• Remain particularly alert during the hours around dawn and dusk, especially during the fall and spring.
• Slow down in areas where woody, brushy or other dense vegetation along the roadside may conceal deer.
• After dark, continually scan roadsides for deer or their "eye shine" —the reflection of lights by the deer's eyes.
• Reduce speed when deer are observed crossing the road. Others may follow and cross the road single file behind the leader.
• Don't assume that deer will proceed directly across a roadway or main-
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tain a constant rate of speed. They may suddenly stop or dart back the way they came.
• When slowing down or stopping due to deer being on or near the road, do not slam on the brakes if other vehicles are behind you. If possible, use the emergency-hazard flashers or tap your brakes to warn other drivers.
• Attempt to scare deer from the road by flashing the car's headlights and sounding the horn in short bursts.
• Maintain control of your vehicle. The likelihood of injury is much greater if you swerve into oncoming traffic or such stationary objects as trees, guard rails and barricades along the edge of the road.
• If an accident does occur, despite a motorist's best efforts to avoid it, Shelton says there is a procedure a driver should follow:
• Do not park the vehicle on the roadway. Safely pull off to the side of the road and turn on the car's emergency-hazard flashers.
• Do not attempt to remove a dead or injured deer from a busy roadway. Contact local, county or state law enforcement officials, who will dispatch an injured deer and fill out the accident report required for insurance claims. Illinois law requires that all accidents resulting in $500 or more damage be reported and an accident report filed.
• If a deer is struck and killed, the driver has priority in claiming the carcass for his or her use. If the driver doesn't want the deer, any Illinois resident may claim the animal. Any person possessing a deer killed as a result of a vehicular accident must report it to the DNR at 1-800-406-3477, which is operable from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Department's Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) number is 217/782-9175. By calling in, an individual will be issued an authorization number, which will allow for the lawful possession of the deer.
Individuals wishing to claim a road-killed deer must call in within twenty-four hours if the collision occurred Monday through Thursday. Deer killed Friday through Sunday or on holidays must be claimed during the next regular work-day. Motorists will be asked the date and time of the accident, the county and closest town in which the accident occurred, and the sex of the deer.
The Department of Natural Resources is producing a brochure on deer-vehicle accidents, which drivers may want to review and keep in their glove box for reference. Copies soon will be available by writing to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wild-life Resources, 524 S. Second St., Springfield, IL 62701-1787, or by calling DNR's Clearinghouse at 217/782-7498 or its Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) number at 217/782- 9175.
Anne Mueller is a staff writer for Out- door Illinois, a monthly publication of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
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Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator