Crashes with deer likely to be high again this season, WisDOT warns

Posted September 25, 2016

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) estimates deer and motor vehicle crashes will be high again this fall when deer activity increases.

The deer mating season is just around the corner. Deer become very active and travel across land and busy roadways, like Highway 35 and Interstate 94. According to a press release from WisDOT, Wisconsin law enforcement agencies reported more than 18,000 “deer-related” vehicle crashes last year.

Deer are the third most common object struck in Wisconsin traffic crashes.

“During the rut (deer mating season) we will have 37 or more cars in the shop at one time and half of those are from deer accidents, especially on Interstate 94,” said Dennis Auld, the manager of Abra Auto Body in Hudson. According to Auld, deer and automobile accidents can be costly. Most of the time deer are hit head on and it affects the inside of the engine compartment, not just the outside body of the car and that is when things can get expensive.

“I didn’t see it coming very much,” said River Falls resident Tim Gavin. He has been involved in two crashes with deer. According to Gavin, one accident cost more than $3,500 and the second time wasn’t more than minor damage, but he said he was very lucky, because he was on a motorcycle.

According to WisDOT, motorcyclists need to be even more careful. Last year, motorcyclists were involved in eight of the 10 fatal deer-related motor vehicle crashes.

“Generally, dusk and dawn are when our deer are the most active,” said local Conservation Warden Brad Peterson. “Deer are a lot more active during the rut.” When deer are in the rut they are moving around a lot more and can cover a large territory. The deer mating season typically starts in mid-October and runs through November, added Peterson.

Deer are unpredictable and drivers don’t know how they are going to react when approached, said Peterson. The main highways and interstates are where most accidents happen, because there is more traffic, Peterson warned. He said people should be more vigilant when they are driving by scanning the ditches and when driving past wooded areas that are on both sides of the road — that is where deer are most likely to cross.

“If you see one deer, there usually is more…,” Peterson said. Slow down and pay attention when driving. Hunting will reduce the population a little bit, but not by that much, he added.

“Don’t swerve,” said Sgt. Denton Anderson, from the River Falls Police Department. He said some accidents are unavoidable, but there are safety recommendations people should follow.

Swerving is the worst thing can drivers do when they see a deer jump out in front of them, said Anderson. The River Falls Police Department, WisDOT and State Patrol all recommend braking and advise people to hit the deer if it is in their path.

“Hit the deer. It’s OK. It happens,” Anderson said. When a driver swerves they are more likely to drive into oncoming traffic or go into a ditch.

With over 30 years of experience working on cars, Auld said he has seen it all. He said it doesn’t matter whether a person is driving 35 mph or 55 mph when they hit a deer head on. Cars are designed to collapse for safety reasons. This will cause damage to the engine compartment, but hopefully keep the occupants safe. He also added that airbag deployment is unusual because the car is still moving forward after the deer has been hit, so people don’t have to be afraid of that.

Auld advises people to eliminate as many distractions as possible while driving, especially using cell phones.

“There is not much you can do,” Gavin said, when it comes to deer jumping out in front of a vehicle. His advice: “Do not overreact and stay calm.”