By Adam Estabrook
Come November, a month of holiday travel and bad weather, we’ll see busy roads and busier schedules. And according to the annual report on animal collisions by North Carolina’s Department of Transportation, it’s also a very dangerous time to be a deer.
For the years 2016 to 2018, November sees the most animal-related car crashes, with the month alone accounting for 21.9% of the total combined reported animal-related crashes. While the gathered data does not differentiate between the kinds of animals involved in these crashes, data analyses show that approximately 90% of all reported animal-related crashes involve deer.
The annual report contains information such as what months and times of day (or night) the most animal-related crashes occur, and which counties experience the greatest number of them.
Wake County sees the most crashes out of the 100 counties, with 822 in 2017, having a population of 1.072 million in 2017. While this yields one animal-related crash per 1,304 people, population is far from the only factor. Places with fewer roads and drivers see significantly fewer animal-related crashes, a story common in the western part of the state.
As for Watauga, while our 2017 figure was a mere 77 crashes (less than a tenth of Wake County), this is still one crash per 715 people. So while Wake County is far and away the most animal-unfriendly from a raw numbers perspective, Watauga is still a little more deadly per capita. Of course, any number of factors outside population may play into the figure, from how frequently our roads are traveled to nighttime visibility, to road culture. Likewise, more traffic through a particular county may increase the likelihood of animal-related crashes in that area.
Given Watauga’s close relationship to nature, the danger of animal collisions is all the more pronounced. Deer presence on roads is heightened during fall and early winter months, due to the hunting and mating seasons – by no coincidence are the months of October through January the most crash-prone, containing 56.6% of the year’s total animal-related crashes. Furthermore, the evening hours between 5 PM and midnight account for half of these crashes.
Fortunately for Watauga, the injuries suffered from these crashes have been non-fatal, with 7 injuries between 2016 and 2018 (out of a total of 220 incidents).
As November draws near, the Department of Transportation offers helpful tips to motorists that may decrease the risk to both themselves and the animals during their travels:
- In heavily wooded areas, and areas with deer crossing signs, slow down, especially during late hours.
- Wear a seat belt. Most deer-vehicle related injuries occurred while drivers or passengers were not wearing a seat belt.
- Bridges, overpasses, railroad tracks, streams, and ditches see the most deer activity. Be especially vigilant around these areas.
- When possible, drive with high beams on, and watch for eyes reflecting in the headlights.
- Deer travel in groups. If you see just one, be on the lookout for another.
- To scare oncoming deer, slow down and blow your horn in one long blast. Do not rely on deer whistles or reflectors, as these are unproven to be effective.
- Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and others. If a car ahead of you hits a deer, you could also become involved in the crash.
- Do not swerve to avoid deer. This could cause a more serious crash with other vehicles, or cause your vehicle to flip.
- Lastly, if you do strike a deer, do not touch it. Frightened and wounded deer can injure you or itself further. If possible, pull the car off the road and call 911.
So when traveling for the holidays, be mindful of the heightened deer activity, both for their safety and for yours. The annual report by the North Carolina Department of Transportation can be found here.