ITHACA, N.Y. – Maybe you’ve noticed that Ithaca has felt crowded in recent weeks. Walking through Collegetown, you might find yourself stopped in your tracks by a sidewalk-hoggers. Biking along the lakefront, you might be caught behind a group of slow movers.
Yes, deer are everywhere. The white-tails are always among us, but the fall breeding season brings them out of the woods in pursuit of food and mates.
The season’s increased deer activity comes with increased risks to drivers. In 2017, Ithaca drivers reported 172 animal collisions according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
That count put Ithaca third in New York state for animal-related collision insurance claims. It is an underestimate of total deer collisions, since many drivers do not file claims after striking animals.
Of the 172 reported collisions last year, 70 took place from October to December. The high rate of fall collisions coincides with peak breeding season for deer.
According to the NYS Department of Transportation, drivers’ caution is especially important from October to December because during the fall “rut,” deer “are far less cautious.” Normally reclusive bucks are apt to leap in front of drivers while chasing does. Does and fawns, for their part, venture into densely populated areas to find fattening food ahead of winter.
All this activity means more road crossings and erratic movements, with the otherwise cautious animals darting suddenly into traffic.
Risk to drivers is highest during early morning and late evening, when deer are most active according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. As daylight shortens, low visibility in morning and evening hours heightens drivers’ risk.
NYSDOT advises extra caution when driving around dawn or dusk, suggesting that drivers reduce speed and use high-beams when possible. After spotting a deer, flashing headlights at oncoming traffic can be a helpful warning.
Deer often travel in pairs or groups, so drivers who spot one deer should be aware that more might be nearby.
If a deer does run in front of your vehicle, NYSDOT advises drivers should brake – not swerve.
Since deer movements are unpredictable, swerving is not a reliable way of avoiding them. Worse, the agency warns “swerving can cause a vehicle-vehicle collision or cause the vehicle to strike a pedestrian or potentially deadly fixed object, such as a tree or utility pole.”
Encounters with deer are inevitable; there are about a million of them in New York state. By taking simple safety steps, though, drivers can reduce their risk of dangerous collisions.
Featured image: Creative commons, Wikimedia; taken by Dwight Burdette