Deer vs. car bang-ups on the rise

Alan Walker isn't exactly sure whether he hit the deer or the deer hit him.

Walker, a York resident, was driving on S.C. 161 toward Newport on a dark evening last week when a deer -- an eight-point buck by his estimation -- appeared out of nowhere, he said.

"The deer hit the front left side of my car -- not the front, but the front side, almost as if he hit me rather than I hit him," Walker said, adding the buck quickly got up and ran off.

Walker's Honda Accord didn't recover as quickly.

"My car was driveable, but my driver's door won't open all the way, my hood is dented, my headlight is busted and the front side is crinkled," he said.

The bill: $2,055.

Drivers are being urged to use caution as deer sightings and collisions appear to be increasing with the cooler fall temperatures. Studies show about 45 percent of deer- vehicle collisions happen during the animal's breeding season, when they are most active, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

For South Carolina, that's typically October and November -- and local body shops are feeling the impact.

"I would say that 75 percent of my business right now is from deer hits," said Heidi Blanks, body shop manager at Dunlap-Johnson Chevrolet in York.

Blanks said her business has seen an influx of cars with deer dents coming in -- so much that the shop's booked until December.

"This is probably one of the worst years I've seen," she said.

She said damage ranges anywhere from $1,000 to $6,500. Depending on the year and make of the car, some vehicles may be a total loss, Blanks said.

The deer are found everywhere, she said.

"You can have them right now from downtown Rock Hill to a country back road," she said.

Blanks believes the residential growth in the area is contributing to the problem this year.

"The deer have no where to go any more," she said. "Where (housing developments) are going up is just pushing them right out of the woods."

It's costly for insurance companies too, but "not nearly as severe as it costs the deer," joked Larry Dunlap, a Nationwide Insurance Agent in Rock Hill. "He pays with his life."

Dunlap had at least three claims come in for deer hits last week, which is higher than normal, he said.

Luckily, the damage for vehicles he's dealt with hasn't been significant, and no one has been injured, he said.

Although locals say the numbers are higher, S.C. Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brett Witt said the state's showing the lowest deer-car collision report numbers since the 1980s.

But he said that number could have declined because fewer people are reporting these types of collisions, especially if they don't involve injuries.

Blanks thinks that's the case for most of her customers.

"Most people just call their insurance agent and say, 'I hit a deer last night,'" Blanks said. "Usually when they get to the shop, there's still deer fur there. There's proof there that they definitely hit a deer."

In 2006, the state Department of Public Safety reported 3,150 crashes involving deer or other animals. York ranked seventh-highest among the state's 46 counties last year.

Preliminary 2007 data suggests York County is behind only five other counties in the state, according to the Department of Public Safety. So far, deer account for almost 2,300 crashes in the state.

As the state's human population increases and more people move to rural areas, commuting traffic increases, said Charles Ruth, DNR Deer/Turkey Project supervisor.

"Increases in deer-human encounters should be expected," he said.

South Carolina crash statistics involving deer or other animals:

Total animal-related crashes in 2006: 3,150

Total animal-related crashes so far in 2007: 2,295*

York County, 2006: 118

York County, 2007: 80

Chester County, 2006: 52

Chester County, 2007: 41

Top County, 2006: Charleston (273)

Top County, 2007: Charleston (170)

* 2007 statistics are preliminary

-- SOURCE: S.C. Department of Public Safety