November may be well known for its cold snaps, Thanksgiving dinners and pre-holiday sales, but there's one other thing that people need to be aware of throughout the month — deer.
Especially with the amount of travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, motorists throughout Kansas and Harvey County should be wary of deer on the road in November — when deer accidents are most likely to occur.
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, 16.5% (10,734 of 64,933) of vehicle crashes reported in 2018 were deer-related. In Harvey County alone, there are roughly 100 deer-related accidents each year (with 101 and counting so far in 2019). Based on statistics from the Harvey County Sheriff's Office, November always features the highest volume of such accidents — with 21 reported in 2017, 30 (nearly one-third of all such accidents) in 2018 and 21 so far in 2019.
Being in the middle of mating season (as well as hunting season) increases deer traffic/movement on the roads, while weather conditions around Kansas this year may require drivers to be even more alert during their holiday travels.
"Wet weather this year may cause some deer to cross roads in new places and the additional vegetation growth could make deer harder to see until they are in the road. The approaching breeding season increases deer movement, and the cooler weather, along with young deer dispersing to find new home ranges, mean more deer may be crossing the roads," said Levi Jaster, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism big game coordinator.
"The biggest thing I think is just to get out, pay attention and focus on driving," Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay said. "We know the deer move more during the early morning hours and late evening hours, as it's getting dark or as it's getting light. Really focus on your driving at those times."
If motorists do get into an accident, Gay said an important element to remember is that it is a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, by law, the accident must be reported to law enforcement — otherwise it is considered leaving the scene and criminal activity.
On top of making sure deer accidents are reported, Gay said motorists should also know that it is safer to hit the deer than try to avoid deer and risk a far worse accident (a sentiment echoed by the Kansas Highway Patrol) — though he noted the impact of a deer accident can vary.
"There's a lot that goes into that: where the deer and the car meet, what level that the deer comes onto the car and hits the windshield. It can go from anywhere from real minor to totaling a car. I've seen it happen both ways. I've seen minor damage and I've seen a car destroyed," Gay said.
“In addition to potentially causing human injuries and loss of life, deer collisions often cause significant vehicle damage that can lead to large expenses for the vehicle owner if not properly insured,” said Shawn Steward, public and government affairs manager for AAA Kansas. “Of the animal strikes reported by AAA Insurance policy holders during the five-year period between 2014 and 2018, the average cost per claim was nearly $4,300.”
Along with avoiding exaggerated movements to avoid deer and remaining alert during the early morning/late evening, here are a few other tips to help motorists avoid crashes with deer:
• If you see one deer, watch for others, as they seldom travel alone.
• Reduce speed and be alert near wooded areas or green spaces, such as parks and golf courses, and near water sources such as streams and ponds.
• Deer crossing signs show areas where high numbers of vehicle/deer crashes have occurred in the past.
• Use bright lights when there is no oncoming traffic and scan the road ahead of you to watch for deer.
• Always wear a seat belt and use the appropriately-fitted child safety seats — they are your best defense should you be involved in a crash.
• Honk your horn with one long blast. A long blast on your horn may frighten large animals, such as deer, away from your vehicle. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) advises against relying on devices such as deer whistles and reflectors, which have not been proven to reduce collisions with animals.