Antler alert

In this photo taken in July, a doe is seen preparing to cross a road in Calloway County. Drivers need to be especially alert for sights like this right now since more deer are on the move during the fall mating season.

MURRAY – It’s peak deer season, so the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has issued an “Antler Alert” to warn drivers to slow down and watch for wildlife on the move.

A KYTC news release said highway crash rates involving wildlife increase sharply in October, November and December with mating seasons, hunting seasons and fall harvests, which all prompt deer to roam in search of new hiding places and sources of food. In Kentucky, 2,091 highway crashes involving deer were reported to police in 2020, according to a database maintained by Kentucky State Police and closely followed by the KYTC Office of Highway Safety. Calloway County ranked 30th out of 120 counties, with 33 deer-related crashes reported last year. That puts Calloway in the top quarter of all Kentucky counties for most deer crashes in the state, though it would at least be at the bottom of that list.

Of the total 2,091 highway crashes involving deer reported in the 2020 total, 123 occurred in Boone County, which was more than in any other county. Rounding out the 10 highest totals were Christian County (101 crashes), Hopkins County (95), Campbell County (93), Hardin County (86), Warren County (85), Muhlenberg County (75), Pulaski County (70), Henderson County (69) and Franklin and Kenton counties (68 each).

Looking at other Jackson Purchase counties, three others besides Calloway ranked in the top quarter of all reported deer-related crashes in 2020. Graves County ranked 14th with 60 crashes; Lyon County ranked 18th with 53 crashes; and Marshall County ranked 25th with 38 crashes. McCracken County ranked 40th with 24 crashes, still putting it at the bottom of the state’s top third, but below Calloway.

Keith Todd, spokesman for KYTC District 1, said it is important to note that the state police statistics only reflect the number of reported deer-related crashes. Many crashes involving deer are not reported to police, so it is impossible to know just how bad the problem is, he said.

“The key thing here is these are reported crashes, because a lot of people will – if their car is still drivable – they’ll just drive on, take it to their insurance agent, tell them what happened and where it happened, and the insurance agent processes it without it becoming a police crash report,” Todd said. “So generally, the ones that end up on this list are some of the more severe ones.”

Todd said he is an avid deer hunter, and observing their behavior over the years has given him some insight as to why deer are such a hazard for drivers in rural areas as well as more populated places.

“The thing I’ve learned over the years is that deer perceive a vehicle something akin to a moving rock,” Todd said. “If they don’t see people associated with a car, they just think a car is a moving rock and don’t pay any attention to it whatsoever. And of course, with mating season starting up, we end up with deer showing up in a lot of urban areas. You’ll see them not just in the suburbs of Murray, but they’ll show up in the city sometimes in places you don’t expect them to be at all.”

Todd noted that most of the Kentucky counties in the top 50 for reported deer crashes have a a few things in common. He said many of them have a substantial number of four-lane road miles and a high traffic count, while at the same time being rural enough that encounters with deer are more likely.

Todd urged drivers to slow down, drive defensively and scan the sides of the roads, especially at dawn, dusk and at night. If there are no cars coming in your direction after dark, he said it is smart to keep your brights on to make it easier to see deer in time to stop. If you see one crossing the road or preparing to cross, make sure to slow down and watch for more deer because they usually travel in groups, Todd said.

When you see a deer crossing, always make sure to keep both hands on the wheel and apply brakes steadily until stopped. Todd said it is especially important to resist the natural instinct to swerve when you see a deer run in front of you. Not only are you more likely to swerve into its path instead of avoiding it – therefore suffering more vehicle damage and risking injury – but you could also risk hitting oncoming traffic or a vehicle attempting to pass. Even if there are no other vehicles on the road, there is a good chance you could lose control of your vehicle and land off the side of the road, resulting in serious injury or death, Todd said.

“Statewide, we have a significant number of single-vehicle, single-occupant, nighttime fatalities,” Todd said. “Of course, if it’s a single occupant and it’s a fatality, we have no idea what happened. Some of them may have been people falling asleep late at night, but we think there is a significant number of those people who might have swerved to avoid a deer, lost control of their vehicle and rolled over, or they ended up off the road and into a tree.”

Todd also urged anyone who does hit a deer to call police and report it even if their vehicle is in good enough shape to make it home.

“It helps us because that shows up when we do a scan of crash reports,” Todd said. “If we’ve got a cluster of deer collisions in a certain area, we can put up deer warning signs, which will help a little bit.”

The KYTC release said State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. every year issues a closely watched report of collisions involving deer and other wildlife, based on insurance claims. For the year that ended June 30, 2020, State Farm reported more than 1.9 million animal collision claims in the United States, of which 1.5 million involved deer.

On average, U.S. drivers have a 1 in 116 chance of a collision with an animal, KYTC said. Kentucky ranks above the national average and 18th among the states at 1 chance in 88. Drivers in neighboring West Virginia run the highest risk – 1 in 37, according to State Farm.