Study pinpoints hot spots for deer-car collisions

Canadian researchers have shone a bright headlight on where potentially fatal deer-car collisions are most likely to happen. Here's one clue: If there are lots of trees and bushes along the road, watch out.

University of Alberta researchers analyzed data from 260 deer-car collisions in the Edmonton, Alberta, area between 2003 and 2007. The study indicates that the hot spots for deer-car collisions virtually encircle Edmonton along the city limits.

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"When heavy vegetation runs right up to the roadway, drivers don't have a chance to avoid a deer popping out of nowhere," says Mark Boyce, an ecologist at the University of Alberta who studied deer-car collisions.

“The conflict between deer and traffic is a natural result of continued human expansion, pushing out of the cities through prime real estate for deer,” says Mark Boyce, a University of Alberta ecologist who worked on the study.

Deer danger zones

The study shows the most dangerous roadways for deer-car collisions share three features:

1. Natural vegetation, mainly bushes and trees, comes up to the roadways.

"When heavy vegetation runs right up to the roadway, drivers don't have a chance to avoid a deer popping out of nowhere," Boyce says. "The solution is to groom natural vegetation along busy … roads, creating a buffer zone where drivers can see grazing and approaching animals."

2. The roadways cut through a landscape of fields and forests.

3. Speed limits on the roadways are high.

Boyce says the mix of agriculture land alongside heavily wooded areas offers the perfect habitat for deer. Deer venture out of forested spots in the morning and evening to scavenge for easily accessible food, he says.

The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

Deer-car collisions on the rise

State Farm estimates 2.3 million deer-car collisions occurred in the United States from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2010. That's up 21 percent from five years earlier.

In 2010, Texas A&M University wildlife specialist Billy Higginbotham estimated 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions take place each year in the United States, resulting in vehicle damage totaling about $1 billion.

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, November is the No. 1 month for deer-car collisions in the United States.

“If there’s any doubt when the peak of the (deer) breeding season is in your area, check with the local auto body shops,” Higginbotham says. “That’s when the number of deer accidents usually top out.”

Top states for deer-car collisions

State Farm says West Virginia tops the list of states where deer-car collisions are most likely to happen. West Virginia is followed by Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota and Montana.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says deer-vehicle collisions in the United States cause about 200 traffic deaths each year. The average car insurance claim for damage from a deer-car collision exceeds $3,100, the institute says.

"The damage to vehicles is pretty substantial. Insurance companies spend vast amounts of money on claims," Boyce tells the Edmonton Sun. "Additionally, 65 percent of the time there are human injuries in the collision. It's a matter of trying to find some sort of compromise or solution so we can have deer and avoid the cost associated."

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