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Avoiding a crash

Caution: Deer ahead

You know that deer-in-the-headlights look?

No, we mean a real deer, and real headlights.

Unfortunately, Indiana State Police and wildlife officials say, many Hoosier drivers become familiar with that terrifying look around this time of year.

Nearly half of vehicle accidents involving deer occur between October and December, with November “by far the worst month,” says Chad Stewart, deer research biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

On the good-news front, collisions with Hoosier deer went down nearly 5 percent last year from 2010, according to the annual Indiana Crash Facts report. Indiana also dropped one spot, to 27th, in State Farm’s national rankings of deer crash likelihood. The likelihood that a driver will hit a deer within 12 months stood at 1 in 163.

“With the number of deer and the number of vehicles out there, deer-vehicle accidents will happen,” Stewart says. “The best thing drivers can do is to take safety measures to keep them to a minimum.”

Experts suggest:

Be aware of prime times for deer movement. That means in the fall, when there’s forage in farmers’ fields, the hunting season occurs and the breeding season, known as the rut, makes male deer range. Deer are active between sunset and sunrise, especially between 6 and 9 p.m., according to the Insurance Information Institute.

One deer, more deer. Deer often travel in herds, so be alert to deer in areas around the first deer you see.

Scan for habitat. Deer like fallow cropland, deep grass, woods, woodlot edges and streambeds. Reduce speed in such areas, especially around blind turns.

Use high beams. At night, if there’s no opposing traffic, illuminate as much area as you can. Look for shiny eyes and dark roadside shadows, even in suburban and urban areas.

Don’t swerve. You can miss the deer but lose control. Most serious crashes occur when a driver hits something else or runs off the road, according to the DNR. If you see a deer far away, immediately slow down.

Pay attention to deer crossing signs. They’re not just scenery. Also, if you see deer in a certain area, be more cautious there, sign or no sign.

Don’t rely on gimmicks. According to Stewart, reflectors or vehicle-mounted deer whistles haven’t been proven to work.

If you hit a deer

Stay calm. “Do not approach the deer unless you are sure it has expired,” Chad Stewart says. A wounded animal is still powerful and can be dangerous, says Phil Bloom, DNR spokesman.
Call 911. Bloom says it is OK to call 911, especially if the deer needs to be moved from the road or there’s vehicle damage you want documented for an insurance claim.
Service job. Oh, and get ready for the repair bill. According to State Farm, the most recent national average cost after a deer collision is $3,305, up 4.4 percent from the previous year.

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