It's dark and you're driving along the familiar road from or en route to work. Suddenly a large brown object appears mere yards ahead of you. Wham! You collide with it. Congratulations. You're one of legions of Americans who are involved in car-deer accidents each year. Studies by the auto insurance industry reveal car/deer accidents cause an estimated $1.1 billion dollars per year.
With the regular deer season in the Southern Zone just over a week away, if you believe hunters are the primary takers of deer each fall, you'd be partially correct. What you'd be missing is the fact motorists kill almost as many.
Nationally, almost 20 percent of the deer population is killed each year by vehicles, according to the National Safety Council. In New York State the number of car-deer accidents has nearly doubled since 1980. The NYS 2005 Highway Safety Report shows between 37,000 and 50,000 car-deer accidents occurred in New York. The Chenango County Highway Department's records show 383 deer carcasses, or 29.48 tons, were picked up from highways under its jurisdiction last year. So far this year, that figure is 347 deer or 23 tons. A Cornell study has indicated only one in six car-deer accidents are reported. Are all these accidents because we have more deer, or because more drivers drive less defensively? Over the past three decades, the state's deer population has remained upwards of a million, but the demographics of where deer densities are highest has changed, as have human densities and driving characteristics. As rural agricultural areas, such as ours, have changed from active farmland to brushy habitat, deer densities have decreased there as the primary food sources created by farming decreased. New construction of rural residences, often in cluster configurations, on what was once farmland has increasingly become the preferred habitat range for deer, offering them both better food and security from hunting. Car-deer accident rates are much higher in these areas than in the more rural, lightly inhabited residential areas.