Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 29, 2012

W.Va. leads U.S. in vehicle collisions with deer

PRINCETON — West Virginia’s holiday travelers often contend with bad weather, but they also have to watch out for a hazard that will dart right out in front of them — members of the state’s deer population.

Encounters between drivers and deer are always a possibility, but the chances for collision increase during the fall, especially when November arrives. Almost every West Virginia driver has either hit a deer, knows somebody who hit one, or had a close encounter with one. Even members of West Virginia’s law enforcement community can recall times, both on and off duty, when they either hit a deer or avoided a collision.

Trooper L.F. Lee of the West Virginia State Police detachment near Princeton remembered one off-duty incident with the local wildlife.

“It was earlier this month,” Lee recalled. “I was doing down Gardner Road in Spanishburg and I was driving my Mustang. I was approaching a curve, and a deer jumped across the guardrail. I swerved to miss it, and still hit it.”

The animal somehow survived the impact and kept running. Unfortunately, Lee ran into the guardrail. He said while he wasn’t physically hurt, his heart hurt for his Mustang.

Deer often ignore traffic and run right in front of oncoming vehicles. Sometimes they stand in the road. When they do try to avoid traffic, they might not use what a human would consider common sense. Lee remembered one other encounter with a deer.

“It was during the day, around 10:30 or 11 a.m.,” he said. “I saw one that was very small and it was on the road.”

The deer ran straight down the road when Lee’s vehicle approached instead of simply running into the woods.

“It was going 12-15 mph straight down the road,” he said.

Some winter conditions attract more deer to highways. When salt is spread on highways to melt ice and snow, the mineral will draw deer to the roadside, Lee said. The deer will stand in the road and lick the salt.

Insurance claims figures from the Federal Highway Administration show that West Virginia tops the list of states where motorists are likely to run into a deer, according to a survey compiled by State Farm. The state has held this distinction for six years. A West Virginia driver has a one in 40 chance of hitting a deer. South Dakota came in second with a one in 64 chance of a collision.

Getting exact figures about the number of crashes between vehicles and deer is not always possible. In McDowell County, drivers who hit deer often do not report it to a law enforcement agency; instead, they go straight to their insurance company.

“We don’t have very many,” said Trooper J.R. Coburn of the Welch state police detachment. “We have very little cell phone coverage here, so they don’t call 911. I’m sure people hit a lot of deer down here, but they don’t get reported due to the lack of cell phone coverage.”

The Insurance Information Institute offered tips for reducing the odds of a deer-vehicle collision:

• Keep in mind that deer usually travel in herds. If you see one, there is a good possibility that others are nearby.

• Watch for posted deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer areas.

• Deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.

• Use high beam headlights as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.

• If a deer collision appears inevitable, attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or put you into the path of another vehicle.

• Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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