Mississippi Highway Patrol: Never dodge the deer

Published 6:35 pm Saturday, November 19, 2016

Oh, deer.

Those two words could be the calmest expression uttered after a collision with a white-tailed buck or doe on a Lincoln County highway or back country road.

As shorter days and cooler temperatures spread across the state, deer become more active and more visible on state roadways, prompting the Mississippi Department of Transportation to issue a warning to motorists: Take precautions to avoid vehicle-deer collisions.

Photo submitted/Over the past year more than 22,700 insurance claims have occurred from deer collisions in Mississippi. MDOT is advising drivers to use caution when driving this time of year to avoid a deer-vehicle collision.

Photo submitted/Over the past year more than 22,700 insurance claims
have occurred from deer collisions in Mississippi. MDOT
is advising drivers to use caution when driving this time
of year to avoid a deer-vehicle collision.

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Deer movement increases during the fall and winter months, meaning the importance of driving defensively and staying alert, especially at dawn and dusk, increases.

“Mississippi averages over 3,000 deer-related crashes per year,” MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said. “The increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours.”

Mississippi Hwy. patrol: Never dodge the deer

MDOT advises motorists to use these safe driving tips to help avoid collisions with deer:

  • Watch for deer and drive with extreme caution, especially in posted areas.
  • If you see one deer near the road, slow down and expect that other deer will follow.
  • Watch for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. About 20 percent of crashes occur in early morning, while more than half occur between 5 p.m. and midnight.
  • • Always buckle up for safety and drive at a safe, sensible speed.
  • At night, use your high beam lights when no traffic is approaching. The high beams will illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the highway.  

Avoiding deer on the roads seems like a no-brainer, but according to data from State Farm insurance, Mississippi ranks 10th in the nation for deer collisions.

Mississippi drivers are more likely to collide with a deer than they were last year, according to the data. The odds drivers will hit a deer in Mississippi are 1 out of 87 drivers, well above the national odds of 1 in 164. West Virginia tops the list for the 10th consecutive year with odds of collision at 1 in 41.

Over the past year more than 22,700 claims have occurred from deer collisions in Mississippi, which is a 1.1 percent increase from the previous year. According to State Farm, the national cost per claim average is $3,995 down slightly from 2015 when the average was $4,135.

Injuries, vehicle damage and fatalities all can result from vehicle collisions with deer. In 2013, 191 deaths nationally were the result of collisions with animals, with deer being the animal most often struck, according to the Insurance Information Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Bobby Britt

Bobby Britt

State Farm insurance agent Bobby Britt encourages drivers to be aware and on the lookout at all times. He said a driver may never know when he may need to react to a deer or other obstacle that may unexpectedly be in his path.

In the insurance business for 35 years, Britt has seen his share of claims involving deer collisions and he’s heading into the season he sees the most.

It’s a seasonal thing for us for sure,” he said. “From now through the winter months is kinda the peak season.”

Britt has never hit a deer, but he knows plenty of people who have, including his daughter. “The only thing you can do is to be vigilant in keeping your eyes on the road and watching not just the highway but the roadside as well,” he said. “Use your high beams.”

He also advises to pay attention to the medians when traveling I-55. Deer crossing east to west through Lincoln County must cross the busy interstate somewhere, he said.

Not all deer collisions happen at night. Some can occur during daylight hours as well, especially at dawn and dusk. It was light outside when his daughter killed a deer with her vehicle, which left her shaken up but fortunately uninjured.

Sam Sones

Sam Sones

“She was really upset because they can do quite a bit of damage to your vehicle,” he said.

She called Britt to tell him about the accident. She said someone stopped, and she thought they were going to help her, but they had ulterior motives. “They wanted to know if she wanted the deer,” he said. “She told them no, so they threw it in their truck and took off.”

Britt said with deer season starting Saturday, plenty of hunters will be in the woods with rifles and dogs looking for a big buck and a clean shot. That means the deer will be running.

“When you see one, you need to be concerned about others,” he said.

That’s also true during the rut, the deer’s mating season. “That’s when the bucks are chasing the does,” said Kamen Campbell, a private lands biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Campbell expects the peak of the rut for Lincoln County to be late December and the first week of January.

He advises motorists to obey the speed limit to avoid deer collisions. “That’s probably the biggest thing,” he said. “Most people that hit a deer don’t have time to react to it.”

He also said to keep that guard up even after the first deer passes. “When you see the first deer cross the road, watch for the rest of the heard. It’s usually the second or third deer that hits the vehicle.”

Sam Sones, an agent with Farm Bureau Insurance, said he’s seen deer claims come in throughout the year, not just the fall and winter months. “It’s no surprise any time of the year. There’s always a decent chance you can hit a deer,” he said. “But when the weather cools off in the fall, you tend to see a good many more deer collisions.”

Sones tells his clients to slow down on country roads and use their bright headlights. “If you have your brights on, you can pick up on the glare of their eyes, but there’s nothing better than being alert and having peak attention when you’re driving,”

Deer, or any large animal, can cause a great deal of damage to a vehicle, he said.

Sones has never hit a deer, but his cousin’s husband, who is also an insurance agent, has. He was heading south from north Mississippi on a rural road much like Hwy. 84. “He hit a world class buck just straight on,” he said.

The man sent Sones texts with pictures of the deer like he’d shot it, though. He made it look like he’d bagged a big one on a hunting expedition and he had Sones going for a minute. Then he sent another text with a more accurate photo. “Then he showed one a few minutes later with the deer plastered to the grille,” he said. “Literally, they had to pry it off. It would have been a trophy buck.”

Cpl. Brandon Fortenberry with the Mississippi Highway Patrol said most accidents he’s seen happen on two-lane state highways and four-lane U.S. highways, but it’s not out of the question to see deer crossing the interstate as well.

The bottom line for drivers is to be aware, he said.

“And never dodge the deer,” he said. “That can cause the vehicle to lose control.”