Motorists need to be aware of whitetail deer roaming our roads, says the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
“As the human population increases and more people move to the country, which increases commuting traffic, increases in deer-human encounters should be expected,” according to a statement from Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Turkey Program coordinator.
Last year, the S.C. Department of Public Safety reported more than 2,300 deer collisions, on par with recent years.
However, these numbers are significantly lower than the 1990s. At that time, such occurrences peaked in line with the large deer population that we had at the time.
The herd population has dropped dramatically since then.
The agency points out that lower numbers could, in part, also be a result of changes in reporting criteria and a lack of reporting for minor damages.
“Although deer-vehicle collisions are an issue in South Carolina, the state is in a much better position than most states, particularly states in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Many states have 30,000 to 50,000 deer-vehicle collisions annually,” said Ruth.
According to Ruth, “sound deer management through regulated annual harvests is the most effective way of curtailing deer-vehicle collisions, but following some common sense rules for driving defensively in deer country will make the trip safer.”
This is especially true because a deer’s natural instincts for evading predators are the same ones that often cause collisions as deer run into the pathway of passing cars.
DNR offers the following tips:
▪ When deer are sighted well ahead of the vehicle, Ruth recommends sounding the horn several times, flicking the headlights (if no oncoming traffic is present) and reducing the vehicle’s speed.
▪ If deer are sighted only a short distance in front of the vehicle, these same collision avoidance techniques, horn and flicking lights, may spook the deer into running across the road, thereby increasing the likelihood of a collision, so in that case it’s best to just slow down.
▪ Always anticipate another deer if you see one or more crossing the highway and do not expect the deer to get out of the way.
▪ Deer-vehicle collisions typically involve damage to the vehicle. Most serious injuries occur when the motorist loses control of the vehicle and hits an immovable object like a tree or embankment while attempting high risk maneuvers to avoid a deer.
▪ If a collision with a deer is imminent, it is best to hit the deer rather than risk losing control of the vehicle.
▪ Deer-crossing signs, diamond-shaped signs bearing the silhouette of a deer, mark a stretch of road where deer have been hit previously, but the signs do not mark specific deer trails.
▪ Deer frequently cross for several miles where the signs are posted.
▪ About 45 percent of deer-vehicle collisions occur in roughly a 60-day period that corresponds with the deer breeding season. In South Carolina, the deer breeding season, or rut, is during October and November.
The majority of all deer activity takes place at dusk and dawn but, especially with the time change, this coincides with the times that the majority of folks are moving to and from work on our state’s roadways.
“Pay attention to changes in habitat types along the highway,” added Ruth. “The zone between habitat types is a likely place for deer to cross a road. Creek bottoms and where agricultural fields meet woodlands are also prime areas for deer to cross roadways.”
If you happen to contact a deer while driving, report the incident to the S.C. Highway Patrol or local law enforcement and your insurance company.
DNR wants to be clear that neither that agency nor any other will compensate drivers for injuries or damages from coming into contact with deer and it’s on you to carry adequate insurance coverage for such collisions.
Oh, and one last thing.
Despite the many jokes that have been told regarding dining on roadkill, if you do happen to hit and kill a deer while driving, it’s safe to eat as long as it’s properly cleaned and prepared in a timely manner.
It’s totally legal, too, if the impact is reported to the authorities.
Brad Harvey is a freelance outdoors writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.