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Archive for Sunday, November 9, 2003

Motorists cautioned as deer expand their domain

November 9, 2003

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It's mating season for deer, and Kansas motorists again are trying to keep a sharp eye to avoid hitting them on the roads. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

Generally, mating season runs from October into December. Its height is mid-November when deer move about more, particularly at dawn and dusk when many people also are driving to and from work.

"It's our peak rush hour, and it's the deer's rush hour as well," said Lloyd Fox, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks big-game program coordinator.

Last year's tally of 9,287 deer-vehicle accidents in Kansas resulted in 341 injuries, one death and more than $38 million in damage, according to state figures. While the number of accidents was a five-year low, it was nonetheless nearly double the tally from a decade earlier.

More of the accidents occur in northeast Kansas, where a combination of more deer, more people, more roads and more traffic makes a dangerous situation.

Johnson County led last year with 386 deer-vehicle crashes, followed by Leavenworth County with 306 and Sedgwick County with 300. Shawnee County had 247, Douglas County had 240, Jefferson County had 169 and Franklin County had 129 such crashes.

"There are more roads, so you have a greater chance of a road intersecting the home range of a deer, so that particular deer is in a greater hazard of being hit by a car," Fox said.

State figures show there are about 300,000 deer statewide.

Nationally, some 150 people die each year in more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents with damage exceeding $1 billion, according to a recent insurance industry-funded report.

County Accidents Deaths Injuries
Douglas 240 0 9
Franklin 129 0 7
Jefferson 169 0 10
Johnson 386 0 26
Leavenworth 306 0 7
Sedgwick 300 0 22
Shawnee 247 1 10
Wyandotte 208 0 14
Statewide 9,287 1 341

Source: Kansas Department of Transportation

"Deer are a lot like children. They are moving about and not paying attention to the traffic," said Lt. John Eichkorn, Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman.

And Eichkorn says too many drivers do the wrong thing when they spot a deer in the roadway -- they panic.

"The first thing is don't panic and don't overreact. A lot of times it's better to strike a deer than to avoid it," he said. "A lot of times (motorists) make the situation worse by going off the road or hitting an oncoming car."

Eichkorn said drivers should be wary around wooded areas or other places where deer could be, and should take deer-crossing signs seriously. Those signs go up where there has been a high number of deer-vehicle accidents.

"We see the highest movement during the dawn and dusk periods of the day," he said. "From a driving standpoint, it makes it difficult to see deer during those periods."

Wrecks Deaths
1980 1,395 0
1981 1,757 0
1982 1,963 0
1983 2,375 0
1984 2,949 0
1985 2,675 0
1986 3,175 1
1987 3,601 0
1988 3,910 1
1989 4,020 0
1990 4,209 0
1991 4,366 1
1992 4,739 1
1993 5,582 0
1994 6,571 1
1995 6,746 2
1996 8,415 5
1997 9,116 5
1998 9,992 1
1999 10,312 1
2000 9,591 1
2001 10,184 0
2002 9,287 1

Source: Kansas Department of Transportation

During summer, deer may go from one place to another an average of two or three times a week, often crossing a road. In November those trips may increase to four or five times a day, Fox said.

"Not only are they covering more ground, but they are crisscrossing back and forth on the road more than they would in July," he said.

And motorists should use caution when they see one deer because they tend to travel in small groups.

"When you see one deer, even if they have crossed the road, you need to slow down because there is a chance there is another deer that will be crossing soon," Fox said.

Some people put deer whistles on their vehicles, but Fox has his doubts about them.

"The scientific literature doesn't support that they reduce accidents," he said. "I think it has a psychological advantage in that people worried about deer accidents are going to be the people looking for deer, and that is the key to avoiding accidents."

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