In November, when it comes to avoiding deer collisions, it's not the one you see crossing the road that's likely to get you, according to a wildlife expert.
"It's the one that's chasing her," said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service fisheries and wildlife specialist.
Throughout the year, there's always risk from collisions with deer on Texas highways, Higginbotham said. But deer behavior is more erratic during the peak of the breeding season, which is from Nov. 1 through December, depending upon which part of the state you live in.
"The doe may look both ways when she's crossing the road, but the buck-in-love that's chasing her may not," he said.
Higginbotham said that some may find the concept of love-struck bucks humorous, but the results of deer-vehicle collisions are not. Collisions that result in a human fatality are up 50 percent since 2000, according to a report released Oct. 30 by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
According to insurance claims, 101 people died in animal-vehicle crashes in 1993 in the U.S. By 2000, fatalities had risen to 150. In 2007, deaths totaled 223.
During the last 14 years, Texas had 227 people die in animal-vehicle crashes, the most of any state. Wisconsin was second with 123 deaths, and Pennsylvania third with 112.
Higginbotham noted the institute records revealed from January 2005 through April 2008, animal-vehicle collisions were three times more likely during November.
"Which just happens to be the peak of the rutting season," he said.
The peak of the rutting season, or mating season, varies from one part of the state to another. It starts Nov. 1 in East Texas; early to mid-November in the Hill Country; around Thanksgiving in West Texas and mid- to late-December in South Texas, Higginbotham said.
"There's another risky time during January and February when food supplies become short and deer are more likely to graze along roadsides," he said.
Most animal-vehicle collisions don't result in human deaths, but can be expensive for the motorist.
The institute also found that crashes are more likely to happen in rural areas where the speed limit is 55 mph or higher, and more often between dusk and dawn. The insurance records also reveal that motorcycle riders account for about half the deaths in such collisions.
Higginbotham warned that because many Texas suburban neighborhoods are close to wooded areas that may harbor deer, drivers in these areas should be cautious too.
In a 2008 study in the city of Edmonton, Canada's sixth largest city, University of Regina researchers found a positive correlation between speed limits and the number of deer-vehicle collisions.
Higginbotham said slowing down may help because it gives the driver more time to react. Also, driving slowly means the vehicle is less likely to go off the road after a collision, he said. The institute report noted that deaths rarely occurred from contact with the animal. Instead, they were the result of the driver running off the road when taking evasive action, or in the case of motorcyclists, falling off the bike.
But from November through December, it's good to know that although you've dodged one deer, there's often another that will follow – and at high speed, Higginbotham said.
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