What’s the most dangerous animal in the United States? Off the top of your head you might say sharks, bears, or maybe venomous snakes. Any of those answers would be laughably wrong. The animal that maims and kills far more humans than anything else is the unobtrusive North American deer. Think about it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are about one million car crashes annually that involve deer, killing about 200 people in the process. In comparison, sharks kill about one person a year and bears about 28 in the past decade. The lesson is clear. Don’t fear the teeth and claws. Instead, keep a sharp eye peeled for Bambi’s relatives because they are much more likely to pose a threat to your safety.
It stands to reason that the greatest danger to human life and limb exists where the most deer are. No great inductive reasoning is needed to arrive at that conclusion. Northern and western states offer great expanses of wooded habitat (and fewer people) that deer love. West Virginia tops the list of states hosting the most deer/car collisions within its borders. Rounding out the top ten are Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. (Utah is up there as well for deer-related accidents.) If you’re a resident of any of these states, be especially careful out there on the road.
Why They Do It
Contrary to the popular belief of some, there are reasons deer often end up going through a windshield or beneath the wheels of a car. They aren’t the animal kingdom’s suicidal version of kamikaze fighters. While they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, they’re no dummies who wander onto roadways out of sheer cretinism. The problem is biology. During the fall months, October through December, male deer have only two things on their minds. The first is to find mates for procreation. The second is to fight other males so that they can find mates for procreation.
When one of these animals intersects with a car it’s usually because they are in pursuit of reason number one or two above. In this state of high anxiety, a deer is just as liable to hurl himself across the road without hesitation, as to wait for a four-ton rolling chunk of metal to get past first.
What You Can Do
If you live in a high “deer strike” area, there are a few things to be aware of. Before anything else, slow down, maybe even below the posted speed limit, and constantly scan those road shoulders because that’s where the critters will come from when they burst onto the scene. Drivers should also be aware of the deer lifestyle. Early morning and the hours around dusk are periods of higher activity. This is when they are more likely to be out and about in search of food or a potential mate. The rest of the time they tend to be bedded down. That’s not to say you won’t hit a deer at high noon, but the chances are lower.
If you have the misfortune to be hit by a deer, here’s what to do:
1. Get the car off the roadway, but leave your hazard lights on.
2. Call the police and get a report filed as you would with any other accident, especially if the animal’s body is blocking traffic, or if there is vehicle or property damage.
3. Stay away from a downed deer. They are wild animals and it might be wounded. Flailing legs and hooves can hurt you.
4. Check your car. Collision with a full-grown deer might cause damage that makes your car unsafe to drive.
The Bottom Line
The average collision with a deer causes about $3,000 worth of damage. This is no small amount. Sometimes, like in a recent Indiana incident, multiple people are killed or injured. This is not the way you want to exit planet earth. While the odds are in your favor that you won’t hit a deer, don’t dismiss the possibility that this gentle woodland creature might decide to turn itself into a 300-pound boulder rolling without warning across the highway at any moment.