Deer and darkness add to driving-related hazards in Delaware

It's dangerous to be a deer in Delaware right now.

It's also hazardous for drivers, who need to be extra vigilant to avoid striking a deer who may be looking for food - or a mate.

The months of October, November and December carry the highest risk of a deer-related accident. According to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, national statistics indicate that nearly half of accidents involving deer occur in the final quarter of the year. The highest numbers of such accidents occur between late October and mid-November.

The clock change to Eastern Standard Time is also a factor. Many commuters are now driving home in the dark.

"Deer are very prevalent in this time of the year," Delaware State Farm Insurance Agent Ron Cephas said. He said collisions with deer sometimes result in injury or even a fatality, but most result in vehicle damage claims - sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars.

According to a State Farm study, Delaware ranks 26th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia where deer accidents are most likely to occur. Chances of a deer-related collision are 1-in-132. More than 5,800 accidents involving deer were reported in Delaware over a recent 12-month period, an increase of seven-percent from the previous year.

Avoiding a collision with a deer takes total focus on the road and your driving, according to Delaware State Police Master Corporal Michael Austin.

"You've got to make a split second decision," Austin said. He also said you should avoid the instinct to swerve around a deer - that could send your car off the road and into trees or a ditch. If there is time, try a long, steady blast of the horn as you brake.

Other advice from DNREC Fish and Wildlife, State Police, the Office of Highway Safety and the insurance industry is provided below:

  • Turn your headlights on at dawn and dusk and keep your eyes on the road, scanning the sides of the road as well as what’s ahead of you.
  • Switch to high beams when there is no oncoming traffic to better reflect the eyes of deer on or near the roadway.
  • Always wear your seatbelt to reduce your risk of injury in a collision.
  • Avoid distractions that might take your eyes off the road, even if only momentarily, such as cell phones, adjusting the radio, eating, or passenger activities.
  • Watch for “Deer Crossing” signs that mark commonly-traveled areas, and be aware that deer typically cross between areas of cover, such as woods or where roads divide agricultural fields from woods.
  • If you see a deer crossing the road ahead, slow down immediately and proceed with caution until you are past the crossing point. Deer usually travel in groups, so if you see one deer, there are likely to be others.
  • Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten deer away. Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences, and reflectors to deter deer, as these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
  • Do not swerve to miss a deer – brake and stay in your lane. Losing control of your vehicle, crossing into another lane, hitting an oncoming vehicle, or leaving the roadway and hitting another obstacle such as a tree or pole will likely be much more serious than hitting a deer.
  • If you hit a deer, stop at the scene, get your car off the road if possible, and call police. Do not touch the animal or get too close; an injured deer may bite or kick, causing serious injury.

Reporter - Anchor

Mark Fowser is a veteran journalist in Delaware.