Between the Lines: Good luck, motorists, and especially deer hunters

I don't hunt deer. At least not on purpose.

But I'm making a plea to everybody out there who enjoys the sport.

Please, practice your marksmanship. Harvest as many deer as you legally can this year.

Every fall, I try my best to send out good vibes to every man, woman and child who has plans to go deer hunting. I want them to be successful. I want to publish photos of a proud hunter displaying a fresh kill.

I'd rather that the venison that so freely roams on the hoof in the Vermillion-area countryside be taken by a hunter.

It's a much better alternative than a car-deer collision.

The weather may be tricking us motorists into a bit of complacency. This week, it's felt more like August than October.

Signs of the autumn season are everywhere, however. The leaves are changing. The days keep getting a bit shorter and shorter. There's a nip in the evening air, and farmers in combines are doing their best to get their crops in while the weather is so cooperative.

These are signs that it's that time of the year again. It's that time when driving becomes just a bit more adventurous, because deer are on the move. And they often like to cross the road right in front of an oncoming vehicle.

There is some good news to report. And some bad news.

According to State Farm®, the auto insurer, the estimated number of deer-vehicle collisions in South Dakota is down 6 percent from last year.

That's the good news.

The bad news? Of all 50 states, South Dakota is the ranks third as the most likely place a motorist will one day find a deer staring into his/her headlights.

State Farm® estimates 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.  That's 9 percent less than three years ago and 7 percent fewer than one year ago.

Among those states in which at least 2,500 deer-vehicle collisions occur per year, Michigan (23 percent), West Virginia (22 percent), Connecticut (22 percent), Louisiana (19 percent) and Arkansas (18 percent) experienced the largest one-year percentage declines.  There were 23,000 fewer deer-vehicle altercations in Michigan alone.  Michigan is second on the list of states with the highest total number of these collisions (78,304), well behind Pennsylvania (101,299).

South Dakota is grouped into a bunch of states where deer-vehicle collisions are most likely.

For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where an individual driver is most likely to run in to a deer.  Using its claims data in conjunction with state licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration, State Farm calculates the chances of a West Virginia motorist striking a deer over the next 12 months at 1 in 53, an improvement over a year ago when the odds were 1 in 42. 

Iowa remains second on the list.  The likelihood of a licensed driver in Iowa hitting a deer within the next year is 1 in 77.  South Dakota (1 in 81) moves up one place to third.  Pennsylvania (1 in 86) jumps two places to fourth. Michigan (1 in 90) drops from third to fifth.

Montana is sixth, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota.  North Dakota and Wyoming round out the top 10. In eight of the top 10 states (Minnesota and Wyoming are the exceptions), the rate of deer-vehicle collisions per driver went down from a year ago.

The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii (1 in 6,267).  The odds of a Hawaiian driver colliding with a deer between now and 12 months from now are approximately equal to the odds that you are a practicing nudist.

State Farm's data shows that November, the heart of the deer migration and mating season, is the month during which deer-vehicle encounters are most likely.  More than 18 percent of all such mishaps take place during the 30 days of November.  Deer-vehicle collisions are three times more likely to occur on a day in November than they are on any day between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31.  October is the second most likely month for a crash involving a deer and a vehicle.  December is third.

The average property damage cost of these incidents during the final half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 was $3,171, up 2.2 percent from the year before.

State Farm has been good in issuing deer-vehicle collision data every fall. Laurette Stiles, State Farm vice president of strategic resources, hopes the media attention that her company's annual report garners has helped at least make the public aware of the potential threat awaiting motorists this time of the year.

"While we can't put our finger directly on what's causing a decline in deer-vehicle collisions, we'd like to think media attention to our annual report on this subject has had at least a little bit to do with it," she said.

Here are tips on how to reduce the odds of a deer-vehicle collision involving your vehicle becoming part of the story State Farm will tell next year:

  •  Be aware of posted deer crossing signs.  These are placed in active deer crossing areas.
  •  Remember that deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.
  •   Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.
  •  Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds – if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.
  •  Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles. 
  •   If a deer collision seems inevitable, attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or place you in the path of an oncoming vehicle.
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