News & Media

Deer-car collisions increase this time of year

by Doyle Rice (USA TODAY)
November 1, 2011

The encounter between a deer and a minivan last week on an Indiana highway was an all-too common occurrence with uncommonly deadly results.

An extended family of 10 was traveling from Chicago to New Jersey when their minivan hit a deer on the Indiana Toll Road and then stopped or slowed, authorities said. The van was then hit by a semitrailer going about 65 mph. Seven members of the family — three adults and four children — died in the crash. Three others were hospitalized.

The crash underscored an ongoing problem: The most dangerous animal in North America isn’t the bear or the shark, but may well be the deer, and the deadliest time of year is fall. On average, more collisions between cars and deer occur in November than in any other month, according to State Farm Insurance.

This is because late October through early December is mating season for North American deer, reports Rob Found, a biologist from the University of Alberta, in Edmonton.

“Males are so focused on mating, they’re not thinking straight,” Found says. “They’re looking for mates and for other males to fight.”

The Blake family of New Ulm, Minn., learned the hard way that fall is a season of high risk for colliding with a deer.

Chris, Sue, and their 17-year-old daughter Olivia were headed out for pizza last November when an oncoming car struck a deer directly in front of them. The deer flew into the Blakes’ Pontiac Vibe with such force that “it came right through the windshield and actually T-boned me in the face,” Chris Blake says.

The deer then went through the back window and out of the car.

All three were seriously injured and are grateful to be alive. “I’m amazed we’re all still sitting here,” Blake said after the accident. “Just have to be thankful.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 1 million car accidents with deer each year that kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage.

By comparison, sharks have killed 10 people in the USA in the past 10 years, according to the International Shark Attack File. As for bears, a list of known attacks maintained by says about 28 people have been killed by bears the past decade.

For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where a driver is most likely to run into a deer, State Farm reports. The other states in the top 10 are Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

State Farm reports that the number of deer/car collisions has actually decreased the past three years, likely because of the economy and people driving fewer miles.

However, over the five-year period 2005-09, 1,017 people died in vehicle-animal collisions, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In a 2004 study, IIHS found that 60% of people who died in such crashes in automobiles were not wearing seat belts.

None of the family killed last week in the Indiana collision was wearing a seat belt, according to the Associated Press.

In the USA, the average collision with a deer produces more than $3,000 damage, Found says.

Found and his team of scientists from the University of Alberta have some potentially good news: A new study led by Found and published in September reported that when warning signs are placed specifically in a targeted location where deer are known to cross, they can reduce collisions by 34%.

“When you consider the amount of collisions that take place, it is treated almost as common knowledge that deer-crossing warning signs don’t work,” Found says. “Indeed, with all the technology available to us, there is skepticism that a sign stuck in the ground is able to reduce collisions with deer and save society millions of dollars.”

The researchers focused their study on Edmonton, which borders dense forests. Using collision statistics from 2002 to 2007, the scientists identified 28 specific hotspots within the city limits before placing warning signs in 14 of these locations.

Collisions dropped from 139 cases the previous year to 78 citywide once the signs were in place.

“Our study showed that warning signs really do reduce deer-vehicle collisions,” Found says.

Contributing: Boyd Huppert, KARE-TV, Minneapolis; the Indianapolis Star; the Associated Press