Chuck Stinnett, Special to the Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE − Fall is fast approaching, which means so is the danger of striking deer on Tri-State highways.

The risk is greatest from October through December, which accounts about half of all such crashes during the year, with November the leading month.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, shorter days and cooler nights help trigger deer mating season and put deer on the move.

The onset of autumn brings about physiological changes in male deer. Bachelor groups of bucks break up and expand from their core area, leading to increased deer movement and the possibility of being hit on the roadways.

Autumn crop harvesting also contributes to this movement as deer are forced to range farther afield for forage and hiding places. The shorter daylight hours contribute to poor visibility at dawn, dusk and night, when deer are most active.

The result: Dead deer can often be seen crumpled on the sides of roadways — and damaged vehicles can be spotted at auto body repair shops.

The risk to human health, though, is what is most worrying.

“We have seen fatalities involving deer,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Corey King said last year.

“I know someone close who died in a car-versus-deer collision,” King said. “It was a lower-profile vehicle with a wedge nose. He hit the animal and it came right through the windshield and broke his neck.”

The risk of a serious accident resulting from striking deer in the Bluegrass State is serious enough that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety issues an annual “Antler Alert” to remind motorists of the dangers.

Indiana, though, has far more deer-vehicle incidents, in part because its human population is about 50% greater than Kentucky’s. Statewide in Indiana in 2022 there were 15,454 collisions involving deer, resulting in 387 human injuries and six fatalities, according to Indiana State Police Sgt. Todd Ringle.

In the ISP’s Evansville District of Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey, Gibson, Knox and Pike counties, there were 763 deer collisions, resulting in 21 injuries but no fatalities. Nearly half of those Evansville-area collisions occurred during October, November and December 2022.

In Kentucky, 2,988 highway crashes involving deer were reported to police in 2021, the latest data available from the state Office of Highway Safety. That was an increase of about 100 crashes from 2020. There were three reported fatalities and 25 serious injuries due to deer collisions in 2021.

Henderson County was tied for 19th in Kentucky with 41 reports of vehicles striking deer in 2021; neighboring Daviess County had 67 deer collisions.

Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois are all rated as medium-risk states for the likelihood of a motorist colliding with a deer, according to the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., which uses insurance claims to produce a closely followed annual report on collisions involving wildlife.

State Farm said deer accounted for nearly 1.4 million of the estimated 1.9 million animal collision claims in the United States for the year ending June 30, 2022. That means deer account for nearly three out of four serious collisions with an animal.

Based on those insurance claims, State Farm said the likelihood of an animal collision is 1 in 85 in Kentucky, which ranks 19th highest among the nation’s 50 states, compared with 1 in 95 in Indiana (24th in the U.S.) and 1 in 139 in Illinois (34th).

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West Virginia remains the state where odd of hitting an animal is greatest (1 in 34), followed by Montana, South Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

State Farm offers these tips to avoid animals on the road:

  • Stay alert. Pay attention to ”deer crossing” and “wildlife crossing” signs and be cautious in areas near woods or water.
  • Use high beams. Flicking your high beams on an animal in the road may cause the animal to scurry away. High beams also help illuminate dark roads.
  • Don’t swerve. If a car crash is inevitable, maintain control of your vehicle and don't veer off the road. ISP’s Ringle referred to this as the “most important tip.”
  • Brake as necessary. If you can avoid hitting the animal, reduce your speed, honk your horn and tap your brakes to warn other drivers. If there are no drivers behind you, brake hard.
  • Remember peak season. Animal collisions happen most during October through December, which is hunting and mating season.
  • Remember meal time. Watch for animals in the road between dusk and dawn.
  • Watch for herds. If you see one deer, there are probably more nearby.
  • Don't use a whistle. No scientific evidence supports that car-mounted deer whistles work.
  • Wear seat belts. Always obey speed limits and wear seat belts.

Motorists are asked to report all deer-vehicle collisions to police. State traffic engineers use the crash data to aid in placing deer-crossing warning signs and other safety measures.

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