Stay clear of deer, but don’t veer
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.