State agencies advise motorists: Be ready for deer on the road

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 5:42 am

As Minnesota’s 1.2 million white-tailed deer population begins mating season and becomes more active, the Minnesota departments of Public Safety (DPS) and Natural Resources (DNR) urge motorist to drive at safe speeds and pay attention. Deer movement peaks after sundown and before sunrise.

In the last three years in Minnesota, 2006-2008, there were 9,820 deer-vehicle crashes resulting in 18 deaths of which 16 were motorcyclists. The crashes also resulted in 76 serious injuries of which 57 were motorcyclists. DPS reports the overrepresentation of motorcyclists is due to the fact that motorcyclists lack the protective cage other motorists have in vehicles. DPS and DNR estimate that only one-third of the crashes are reported.

“Deer-vehicle crashes are hard to avoid, but these crashes can be prevented if motorists buckle up, drive at safe speeds and never swerve when encountering a deer in the road,” said Cheri Marti, director of DPS Office of Traffic Safety. “Swerving to avoid a deer or any other animal can result in your vehicle going off the road or into oncoming traffic. The best defense is to be buckled and brake.”

Marti said that a motorcyclist’s best response is to slow down quickly and, unlike other vehicles, swerve around the animal if traffic allows. Riders are encouraged to wear helmets and other protective gear to prevent injury or death in a crash.

Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director noted that being knowledgeable about deer activities can also help Minnesotans stay out of harm’s way, especially during the fall breeding season, commonly referred to as the “rut.” During the rut, deer are more active than usual as they become preoccupied with mating. Summer’s fawns can also make their ways onto roadways after their mothers leave them to mate.

“It’s a time when deer don’t seem to maintain that invisibility and distance that typically keeps them from dangerous interactions with motorists,” Konrad said. He noted that drivers shouldn’t assume trouble has passed completely when a deer successfully crosses the road. Deer frequently travel in groups.

Hunters also play a role in moving deer during daylight hours. Small game hunters moving through fields occasionally flush deer from their resting places. Bear and bow hunters also flush deer from forested areas.

“If you see hunters in blaze orange near the road it’s probably a good idea to slow down, especially if you hear gunfire,” Konrad said.

Motorists also should slow down whenever farmers are harvesting cornfields because deer are often flushed from fields as farm equipment approaches them.

If a deer is struck by a vehicle, but not killed, drivers are urged to stay their distance because some deer may recover and move on. However, if a deer does not move on, or poses a public safety risk, drivers are encouraged to report the incident to a DNR conservation officer or other local law enforcement agency.

Motorist Safety Tips for Deer:

* Drive at safe speeds and be prepared and alert for deer.
* Don’t swerve to avoid a deer, this can cause you to lose control and travel off the road or into oncoming traffic. The best defense is to buckle up and brake.
* Don’t count on deer whistles or deer fences to deter deer from crossing roads in front of you. Stay alert.
* Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road. If anything looks slightly suspicious, slow down.
* Slow down in areas known to have a large deer population; where deer-crossing signs are posted; places where deer commonly cross roads; areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forest land; and whenever in forested areas between dusk and dawn.
* Deer do unpredictable things. Sometimes they stop in the middle of the road when crossing. Sometimes they cross and quickly re-cross back from where they came; sometimes they move toward an approaching vehicle. Assume nothing. Slow down; blow your horn to urge the deer to leave the road. Stop if the deer stays on the road; don’t try to go around it.
* Any Minnesota resident may claim a road-killed animal by contacting a law enforcement officer. An authorization permit will be issued allowing the individual to lawfully possess the deer.

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