Drivers urged to be on high alert for deer

October through December means mating season for deer, and officials say that’s bad news for drivers in and around Tuscola County.

In 2015, Tuscola County saw 825 car-deer accidents, up 62 compared with 2014, said Lori Conarton, Michigan Deer Crash Coalition chairperson and communications director of Insurance Institute of Michigan in Lansing.

Each year, about $130 million in damage results from car-deer accidents in the state.

“(Crashes) can range from $2,000 or $3,000 with damage to the front end to cars, and some that are totaled,” said Conarton.

Conarton said 50 percent of car-deer accidents occur during autumn because deer are more mobile.  “They’re moving more – they’re not staying in the same area,” Conarton said. “And then we have hunting season put in there, too, which moves the deer around and so they cross roads a lot more and come in contact with vehicles.”

According to the Michigan State Police website, there are 1.75 million deer in Michigan. At least one of those animals are involved in nearly 50,000 car-deer accidents in Michigan every year, 80 percent of which occur on two-lane roads.

Tuscola County has five major highways that are two-lane roads that run through the county: M-24, M-46, M-15, M-81 and M-25.

Emergency Services Coordinator of the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department Steven Anderson said many accidents occur along the central to southern half of Tuscola County, primarily south of M-81.

“There’s a lot of wooded areas and state game areas and it seems there’s more of a deer population down there,” said Anderson. “People need to slow down and pay attention especially now that hunting season has started and during dusk and early morning.”

Tuscola County Sheriff Leland Teschendorf said car-deer accidents are unexpected and can happen any time.

“Deer just jump out,” Teschendorf said, “Anywhere, anytime – there’s deer here in town. You never know where they’re going to be.”

Teschendorf said there are people injured every year because of car-deer accidents. The worst accidents he has seen over the years have involved motorcycles and deer.

Huron County Sheriff Kelly Hanson said there is a larger deer population in Huron County than in Tuscola County. The Michigan Deer Crash Coalition website reported there were 937 car-deer accidents in Huron County in 2015.

“We’ve got a lot of wooded area and farmland so we’ve got both components that deer need. Deer seem to thrive on wooded area and the crops.”

Hanson added there may have been more car-deer accidents in Huron than reported because vehicle insurance claims are higher. Drivers may not be able to pay for any damages from the accident because it could cost more money to fix the vehicle.

Mike Tuckey, director of finance for the Tuscola County Road Commission, said when a car-deer accident occurs it is called out by Tuscola County Central Dispatch to remove the animal.

“Our responsibility is to remove the deer off the travel portion of the road that would not include the shoulder,” said Tuckey.

But if an accident goes unreported, Tuckey said commission employees may not come clean up the mess.

“Unless we’re alerted of it or unless we stumble upon it while we’re driving the roads we wouldn’t know,” Tuckey added.

Lt. Todd Mapes of Michigan Police Department-Caro Post said over the past several days, there have been nearly a dozen car-deer accidents in Tuscola County.

Mapes said it is split down the middle in Tuscola County. About half of car-deer accidents are on major roadways, and the other half are on the back roads.

“Obviously around dusk and dawn, those are important times when the deer are moving,” Mapes said. “We see a lot of those crashes – we see a lot of those at dusk and dawn. I guess we would tell people to be watchful in those times when the deer are at many times moving.”

According to a New York Times article, “The Twilight Zone,” deer are crepuscular animals — a living creature most active at twilight — with eyes better suited for low light activity because they are fully dilated. When headlight beams hit a deer’s eyes that are set to capture as much low light as possible, the animal freezes until the eyes can adjust — often which happens when the deer is in the middle of the road.

Conarton said the biggest misconception Michigan residents have is more deer accidents occur in the rural regions or north of larger populations.

But in 2015, Oakland, Kent (where Grand Rapids is the county seat) and Jackson counties – those with high human populations – led Michigan in car-deer accidents.

Conarton said Oakland County had 1,873 car-deer accidents, followed by Kent County (1,528) and Jackson County (1,324).

“What happens is in those areas that are growing, they build where the habitat used to be and so the deer are creature of habit – they don’t move out that much – they stay there even though they’re building in their area. So they’re coming into contact with cars more,” Conarton said. “So you see when you look at the statistics, the counties with the highest amount  of crashes are actually in higher populated areas. The most populous counties seem to have the most deer crashes because there’s more cars on the road.”

Overall, accidents involving deer in Michigan increased 3 percent in 2015 from 2014, according to the Michigan Deer Crash Association. The organization reported that last year, 11 people died in car-deer accidents and 1,132 were injured.

Mapes said the Michigan State Police Department encourages slower speeds and using caution in wooded areas or areas with tall crops where deer may be hiding. If a driver sees one deer, Mapes said, there are probably others nearby as the animals often travel in groups.

To prevent accidents, MSP urges drivers to stay awake, alert and sober. If a driver sees a deer, slow down and don’t rely on gimmicks such as flashing high beam headlights or honking  at the deer.

If the accident is unavoidable, the website says not to swerve, but brake firmly while holding onto the steering wheel and bring the vehicle to a controlled stop. Then pull over to the road shoulder with the emergency flashers on, and stay cautious of the other traffic while getting out of the vehicle.

MSP says drivers should report car-deer accidents to police and their insurance company.

For more information about deer crashes in the state, visit the Michigan Deer Crash Association at http://bit.ly/2diG3lM or Michigan State Police at http://bit.ly/2e3NIHB.

Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at debanina@tcadvertiser.com

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