They're cute when you see them at Yellow River Game Ranch. They're annoying when they eat your vegetables from your garden. They're epic and memorable when you finish watching the original "Bambi." And this time of the year, deer can do damage and real harm to humans.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division put out an alert this week about increased deer sightings this fall. There are an estimated 50,000 deer-car collisions annually in Georgia; highway safety officials and the Insurance Commissioner are stressing caution on Georgia's roads.
“Deer are on the move during this time of year,” said Commissioner Mark Williams, Department of Natural Resources. These more rural parts of the Metro area are bound to see more deer and the chances of collision are even greater than in suburban areas.
These types of collisions are more than just annoying and damaging to our cars. Last year, more than 300 people were injured in deer collisions according to the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety, and a total of 1,000 people have died in similar accidents between 2006 and 2010.
“While deer are beautiful to watch in their natural environment, they can be unpredictable hazards for motorists on Georgia’s roads, especially now during their fall breeding season,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “These hazards just underline the need for motorists to observe posted speed limits and wear their seatbelts.”
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens encourages "all Georgia drivers to check their automobile policy to determine if they have adequate coverage. This optional protection is commonly found in the comprehensive coverage of an automobile policy. "
There are other natural and human causes which lead to increased sightings at this time of the year. Don McGowan, senior biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division points out three key factors:
- Mating Season- Deer mating season occurs between October and early December. Male deer go into rut and begin actively searching for mates. This greatly contributes to the increased movement of deer, bringing them across roadways.
- Increased human population and rural development- As the human population continues to grow and expand into traditionally rural areas, deer lose their natural food source and consequently move into new areas in search of food and water.
- Time Changes- As we begin to “fall back” for daylight savings time, our days become shorter and nights become longer. Rush hour for most commuters tends to fall during the same hours in which white-tailed deer are most active -- dawn and dusk.
Here are a few tips and information to help motorists avoid potential collisions:
- Deer are unpredictable. Always remember deer are wild, and therefore, can be unpredictable. A deer calmly standing on the side of a road may bolt into or across the road rather than away from it when startled by a vehicle.
- One Deer Usually Means More. Take caution and slow down when a deer crosses. Deer generally travel in groups, so if one crosses, be prepared that others may follow.
- Deer are more active at dawn and dusk. They typically are seen roadside during the early morning and late evening -- the same times most people are commuting to and from work.
- Deer are more active during this Time of Year. While deer-car collisions can occur any time of year, the fall breeding season is a peak time for such accidents. Road shoulders generally provide green food both during extremely dry times of the year and following a long, hard winter.
- You CAN minimize the damage. If it is too late to avoid a collision, drivers are advised to slow down as much as possible to minimize damage - resist the urge to swerve to avoid the deer, this may cause further damage, sending drivers off the road or causing a collision with another vehicle. If an accident occurs, alert the police as soon as possible.
And while there are those who swear by deer whistles, a 2007 study by Sharon Ann Falitzsk of the University of Georgia shows that these do not work. And while I waiver between "what can it hurt?" and "maybe it will help!", my personal experience with a deer-whistle equipped Miata vs. an unpredictable-doe-that-now-has-a-limp confirms that not only is this study correct, the warnings and tips provided by this press release confirm that our best defense is to be alert and aware.