Dramatic Increase in Deer Vehicle Accidents in Fairfield County

Mary Ann Kleinschmitt

COLLISIONS WITH DEER AND OTHER ANIMALS SPIKE 
IN NOVEMBER; FATAL CRASHES UP 50% SINCE 2000 

DRAMATIC INCREASE IN DEER -VEHICLE ACCIDENTS 
on Fairfield County Roads 
By Mary Ann Kleinschmitt, 
Animal Control Officer, New Canaan 

Fatalities from vehicle crashes with deer and other animals have more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to a new study by an auto insurance-funded highway safety group. The report by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that 223 people died in animal-vehicle crashes last year, up from 150 in 2000 and 101 in 1993. 


The study found that insurance claims for crashes with animals is three times higher in November than it is from January to September.

"The months with the most crash deaths coincide with fall breeding season," said Anne McCartt, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's senior vice president for research.

In 2006 State Farm Insurance reported a 6% increase in claims nationwide. However local increases in some Connecticut towns were far more dramatic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year in the U.S., causing over $1.1 billion in insurance claims. The financial burden of these accidents is increasing according to a report published in CNNMoney.com. State Farm policy holders were involved in 192,877 deer-related collisions in 2006 versus 182,458 in 2005. The average property damage cost was $2,800, $300 more than 2005, State Farm said.

When Henry Ford began making the Model T in 1908, the deer was virtually extinct in Connecticut and therefore not a hazard. Now with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection reporting exploding deer populations even bicyclists are at risk: In Wilton a cyclist suffered a broken hip when a deer ran into him as he rode his bicycle on his own street. Deer-motorcycle accidents account for a large share of all motorcycle crashes.

For 2006, many towns showed an increase in “deer-car accidents” that is greater than double the number in 2005. For example in Greenwich there were 86 in 2006 compared to 38 in 2005. New Canaan reported 101 compared to 44 in 2005. Darien reported 38 compared to only 16 in 2005. Trumbull experienced 38 deer vehicle incidents in 2006 compared to 21 in 2005. As DEP wildlife biologist Howard Kilpatrick has repeatedly advised, “The deer population needs to be reduced if you want fewer deer-vehicle accidents.”

In a new study of homeowners’ attitudes published by the Journal of Wildlife Management, it was found that 44% of residents in rural Greenwich had been in a deer-related accident. 88% of these residents would prefer to see fewer deer. 

  (Photo taken in Darien, early 2007)
Connecticut Police accident reports demonstrate that the peak times for deer-vehicle  accidents coincide with "rush hour", when there are the most vehicles on the roads in periods of darkness. This is especially true during the October to December deer mating season when deer are most mobile. Specifically, the data show accident peaks occurring on weekdays between 7:30 and 9 AM and between 4 and 5:30 PM. There are more accidents after dark than before dusk and more on Sundays than Saturdays.  For those that believe hunting may contribute to these road accidents: there is no hunting after sunset and none on Sundays, so the evidence does not favor this explanation.

Science continues to search for ways to divert deer from the most dangerous stretches of roadways, but the cost-per-mile for the few effective measures such as tunnels and tall fences is extremely high.
"Deer whistles," devices that attach to the vehicles' front bumpers, have been shown to be ineffective, State Farm Insurance said. Extensive testing by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation of “deer reflectors”, mirrors mounted at 45 degrees on posts at the sides of roadways, has shown these devices have no impact on the number of deer related accidents. 

According to The Highway Safety Research Center, there are a few tips you can follow to help prevent and/or safely manage deer collisions: Slow down. Always wear your seat belt. Use high beams whenever possible to watch for eyes reflecting in your headlights. Be aware that deer travel in groups – if you see one, there are probably more. Avoid swerving. 

Nationally it is estimated that only 20 to 50% of deer-vehicle-accidents are reported, and in Connecticut perhaps only one sixth of the true numbers are reported, according to a study performed by the Connecticut DEP in 2001, which compared the number of Police accident reports citing deer, with the actual number of roadkill deer carcasses collected by the Department of Transportation. Prompted by these inconsistencies in local reporting, The Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance has been pursuing more accurate and uniform reporting by all municipalities in Fairfield County for the last two years.

Patricia Sesto, Alliance Chairman, says, “Increasing numbers of deer-vehicle accidents are not something we should accept. Reducing deer herds will have a rapidly beneficial effect on this accident rate, while a reduction in Lyme cases and in woodland damage will take longer to appreciate, but are also important benefits of deer reduction.” Attempts to reduce deer numbers have increased over the last five years. Even in the more-developed towns where hunting is limited largely to archery on small parcels of land, deer population control is being stepped up- in communities such as Brookfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Ridgefield, Redding and Wilton.  But all towns are a long way from even stabilizing deer numbers, let alone reducing them. All evidence suggests that deer numbers continue to rise as numbers of hunters dwindle and access to land becomes more difficult with increasing private ownership.                   

The full report from Highway Loss Data Institute can be found at: http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr103008.html
and from State Farm at: http://www.statefarm.com/about/media/media_releases/wv_deer_collisions.asp
The Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance fosters regional development of effective deer population control. Further information, including the full report and graphs on deer vehicle accidents by the DEP and the table of 2005 and 2006 deer-vehicle accident numbers for local towns may be found at the Alliance’s web site: http://deeralliance.com