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Time to steer clear of deer

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 4, 2011
— If you want to meet a member of the opposite sex, there's no need to jump in front a car.

If only deer understood that, they'd be saving themselves—and Wisconsin motorists—time, expense and heartache.


In Wisconsin, 39 percent of car-deer crashes happen between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, according to the state Department of Transportation.


"Car-deer accidents do happen year round, but they're more prevalent from mid- to end of October to mid- to end of November," said David Pierce, American Family Insurance agent in Edgerton. "They're moving all the time; it's mating season."


Here's more good news:


"Rock County is pretty heavily populated with deer," said Capt. Gary Groelle, who oversees squad car maintenance at the Rock County Sheriff's Office. "We've got some much wooded area."


In 2010, 389 people were seriously injured in car-deer crashes in Wisconsin, and 14 people died, according to the Department of Transportation. That's the fourth-lowest injury rate since the agency started tracking crashes 30 years ago.


The average insurance claim for a car-deer crash is $2,573, but a big enough animal can total a car, according to American Family Insurance.


"I know one woman who hit a deer, and it did about $4,000 damage to her car," said Pierce. "Two weeks later, she hit another one, and it did $16,000 of damage—two in a span of three weeks."


Such accidents are rarely tidy.


"Most of the time, the deer runs into the side of car and goes bouncing down the side of the car—front fender, the door, back fender," Pierce said.


The sheriff's office has found a way to reduce its car-deer expenses.


"We used to have more damage done to squad cars," said Groelle said. "But now we have push bumpers. That's been a big deterrent for us."


Push bumpers, which are sometimes referred to as "cow catchers," consist of two or three horizontal steel bars mounted across the front of the squad car grill.


Short of buying push bumpers, what's the best way to protect yourself and your vehicle?


Remember, safety first:


-- Stay in your lane and out of the hospital: As much as you don't want to hit the deer, don't swerve to miss it, Pierce said.


Most serious injuries happen when a driver swerves and strikes a tree or utility pole. Or people swerve into the ditch and end up rolling their vehicles.


Also—this should be obvious—wear your seat belt. It can drastically reduce your chance of serious injury.


-- Pay attention: The state Department of Natural Resources doesn't randomly choose where it's going to put those deer crossing signs. Placement is based on accident numbers and known deer patterns.


If you see a deer in the road, brake firmly and blow your horn.


Finally, it shouldn't surprise you that the singular of deer is the same as the plural. If you see one deer, there's going to be more, Pierce said.


-- Reduce interior lighting: If you can reduce the brightness of your instrument panel, do so.


"Dimming you interior lights will help you see better outside at night," Pierce said.


E-readers, hand-held video games and portable DVDs can shed a distracting glow, especially if the user is in the front passenger seat.


-- Don't bother with gadgets: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has studied deer whistles and determined they have no effect whatsoever.


-- Alter your schedule to suit the deer: We're only kidding about this one, but Department of Transportation records show that deer move at different hours of the day depending on the time of year.


Car-deer crashes in 2010 were most likely to occur between 5 and 8 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and midnight from October to January; between 5 and 7 a.m. from March to June; and between 8 p.m. and midnight from April to August.


No information was available for February.


-- Move to Minnesota: We're definitely kidding about this one.


American Family Insurance offers coverage in 19 states. In 2010, Wisconsin ranked first in the number of car-deer crash claims with 9,051. Those claims cost American Family $23.45 million.


Missouri came in second with 6,060 claims, and Minnesota was third with 4,366.



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