Stay clear of deer, but don’t veer

The Enterprise - - Community Forum -

Maybe af­ter this week­end it will fi­nally start to feel con­sis­tently fall-like here in St. Mary’s. And while that crisp au­tumn air is a fa­vorite for many, the sea­son also brings with it a hand­ful of down­sides, from mere nui­sances like rak­ing leaves to the more dan­ger­ous ones — like a sud­den in­flux oaf deer.

Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, deer breed­ing sea­son is in full swing now, which means deer, along with other wildlife, will be on the hunt for food sup­plies and mates. So with that bi­o­log­i­cal im­per­a­tive driv­ing them, deer are even less likely than usual to pay at­ten­tion to au­to­mo­biles. They are look­ing for each other, not for any­thing on wheels.

“Deer ac­tiv­ity will peak dur­ing their breed­ing sea­sons, which oc­curs from mid-Oc­to­ber through Novem­ber,” DNR Wildlife and Her­itage Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Paul Peditto said in a press re­lease. “Deer of­ten travel with­out re­gard for roads or traf­fic dur­ing this time pe­riod. Mo­torists need to be es­pe­cially alert from sun­set to dawn, as deer are more ac­tive dur­ing this time.”

One large in­sur­ance com­pany re­ported about 33,000 deer ac­ci­dent claims from Mary­land driv­ers from a 12-month pe­riod end­ing in June. That was up from ap­prox­i­mately 29,700 in the pre­vi­ous time pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the in­sur­ance com­pany. The odds you’ll hit a deer here are 1 in 127, a lit­tle higher than the na­tional av­er­age of 1 in 162. And the av­er­age prop­erty dam­age claim from a such an un­in­tended wildlife en­counter runs about $4,179, ac­cord­ing to the in­sur­ance com­pany.

So what can you do to avoid trou­ble? DNR asks driv­ers to be cau­tious dur­ing this haz­ardous driv­ing sea­son by slow­ing down if a deer crosses the road ahead. Be­cause deer are known to travel in groups, there may be others nearby. Pay at­ten­tion to the shoul­der of the road, as any deer stand­ing there may sud­denly en­ter the road­way for no ap­par­ent rea­son. Slow down and lay on the horn to scare them away. Grad­u­ally brake to avoid hit­ting a deer, but don’t swerve. You don’t want to lose con­trol of the ve­hi­cle and cause an even worse ac­ci­dent.

Driv­ers should be par­tic­u­larly on alert for deer dur­ing their early-morn­ing com­mutes and while driv­ing dur­ing the evening. If you come across a deer cross­ing sign, slow down and be on the look­out. These signs are posted in ar­eas of heav­ier deer ac­tiv­ity, but are by no means the only places you’re li­able to spot them. They’re ev­ery­where.

In ad­di­tion to these safe driv­ing prac­tices, the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion rec­om­mends clean­ing car win­dows and en­sur­ing all ex­te­rior lights are op­er­a­tional to help driv­ers see an ap­proach­ing deer. Use high beams at night where pos­si­ble and when there is no on­com­ing traf­fic.

MDOT also ad­vises driv­ers to be aware of their sur­round­ings. Know that deer feed pri­mar­ily be­tween sun­set and sun­rise usu­ally in for­est ar­eas or in ru­ral re­gions near wa­ter­sheds — in other words, pretty much most of St. Mary’s County.

Even in sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods, deer can en­ter the road­way and cause an ac­ci­dent in a split-sec­ond.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 re­gional deer work group re­port, deer pop­u­la­tion lev­els in South­ern Mary­land can reach 170 of the an­i­mals per square mile in ar­eas where they can­not legally be hunted. And you can bet many of them will at some point cross a road­way in this area.

We urge ev­ery­one to stay on their guard while be­hind the wheel for the du­ra­tion of the fall rut — and be­yond. Re­mem­ber, deer most def­i­nitely are not look­ing for you this time of year.

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