News & Media

Fatal deer-car collision highlights need to address wildlife on PA highways

by Amy Worden (Philadelphia Inquirer)
November 12, 2012

Once again, my road to work is paved with blood.

With deer mating and migrating season upon us, the population is on the move.

The 25-mile, mostly rural stretch of four-lane highway between my house and the state Capitol has numerous deer crossings and heavy traffic.

When a tractor-trailer plows into a deer it leaves a trail of carnage dozens of yards long. And I see fresh trails of blood and deer carcases every day. (In fact, yesterday I saw the body of a deer with it’s head missing. Could it be someone actually stopped their car to cut off the deer’s head for a trophy? That’ll be some story to tell the grand kids.)

While the number of deer-car collisions have decreased in other states, Pennsylvania has the highest numbers of deer-car collisions in the nation –14,082 collisions and 41 human fatalities in 2011, according to PennDot statistics reported in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. And those are the accidents that get reported.

According to one attorney’s website your odds of hitting a deer while driving in Pennsylvania is 1 in 86. And November is the most deadly month.

But the commonwealth has spent no money  – zero – on any lasting deer-car mitigation programs. A few years ago PennDot spent $100,000 on a failed experiment with deer detection devices that were placed on Rte. 322 north of Harrisburg.

Despite the failure here, similar devices have been employed in other states such as Indiana and Wyoming with positive results.

Thousands of wildlife crossings have been built in the past 30 years, including culverts, bridges, overpasses and underpasses like the one pictured here in Florida.

Photo credit: Wikimedia. Bear underpass.

The crossings are credited with helping save mountain goats in Montana, spotted salamanders in Massachusetts, bighorn sheep in Colorado, desert tortoises in California, and endangered Florida panthers and turtles in Florida.

New Jersey and Virginia highway agencies have gone to great lengths to develop tunnels and overpasses to allow wildlife to travel their regular routes over or under busy highways without endangering themselves or humans.

The issue in Pennsylvania was brought into tragic focus today with a news report from Butler County in the west about a woman who was killed when a deer struck by an oncoming car flew into the car in which she was riding.

Yet we do nothing. Of course, the state is long overdue for basic highway and bridge repair. Billions of dollars are needed in infrastructure improvement to improve roadways and fix structurally-deficient bridges.

So why spend money on protecting deer? Because humans are protected too. 

Save for one deer caution sign, there is no other deer mitigation on the highway that I travel. I try to reduce my speed at night – particularly just after dark when deer are on the move – and keep my eyes peeled for bright eyes by the side of the road.

Remember deer often travel in herds so if you see one cross the road be prepared for another to follow.

The advice from road experts is not to swerve to avoid a deer lest you lose control of your vehicle and end up with greater injury by hitting a tree or another car.

The insurance companies don’t take kindly to deer avoidance either. We lost our good driver discount because my husband swerved to avoid a deer on an Indiana highway and ran his rental car into a snow bank. The bill was just a few hundred dollars but State Farm’s eyes they would have rather he hit the deer and no doubt cause much greater damage to the car and, likely, himself.