Deer-vehicle collisions decline as hunter harvests increase

Injuries To People

Deer-vehicle collisions decline as hunter harvests increase

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Northeast Ohio deer hunters did more than fill their freezers with venison the past few years. They also helped to reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions on the road.

Since 2015, the number of deer collisions decreased by about 600 in the seven-county area, and by 2,650 statewide, according to statistics compiled by the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

During that same time period, deer hunters harvested more than 24,000 deer in Northeast Ohio, and 186,000 statewide, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife. That total includes deer shot during newly permitted bow hunting in seven cities in Cuyahoga and Lake counties where the herds had grown to troublesome sizes.

Hunting and deer management programs, including winter deer-culling in local parks, all contribute to the reduction in deer-vehicle collisions, said John Windau, a spokesman for the state wildlife agency.

“Those are all deer that are not out there on the roads to get hit,” Windau said. “And if they’re females, those are deer that won’t be creating more deer.”

Ohio’s deer population exploded to an estimated 700,000 deer in 2016 from a mere 17,000 deer in 1970, according to Division of Wildlife statistics.

Deer-vehicle collisions increased in kind, reaching a peak of 2,600 in Northeast Ohio in 2015, ODOT reported. Lorain County was tops in the state with 595, according to ODOT, and 543 according to the Department of Public Safety.

Statewide, there were more than 21,000 deer-vehicle accidents in 2015, causing four deaths and 801 injuries. Auto damages exceeded $85 million, according to the latest statistics available from the Ohio Insurance Institute, or about $4,000 per car.

Injuries from vehicle crashes with deer were down across most of Northeast Ohio in 2017. In Cuyahoga County, deer-related crash injuries have dropped by nearly half since 2015. Two people died in Northeast Ohio in 2016 as a result of deer-related crashes, and there was one fatality in 2017.

Deer management programs implemented in Northeast Ohio appear to be having the desired effects. But few cities can match the success of the program implemented by Independence in 2001.

Since the February to February 2008-2009 hunting season, when there were 118 deer-vehicle collisions in the city, the numbers have declined every year, to a low of two accidents during the 2017-2018 deer hunting season, said Police Chief Michael Kilbane.

In the past four years, bow hunters in the city have harvested 491 deer, with only 14 deer-vehicle accidents during that time.

“It’s a trade-off for me,” Kilbane said. “The resources we’re spending on the deer hunting program are more than made up by the money we’re not spending on investigating deer vehicle collisions.”

In 2013, Mentor had 98 deer-vehicle accidents, the highest rate of any city in the state. Since then, the number of accidents have decreased annually to a low of 27 last year, said Ken Kaminski, the city’s director of Parks and Recreation.

“The reduction in accidents is a direct relation to our management programs,” Kaminski said.

Annual culling of up to 60 deer, plus expanded bow-hunting in the city, have helped, he said, with 53 taken this season. So has a road-warning project that includes deer-deterrent equipment such as light-flashing reflectors and sound waves designed to scare the deer off the road.

“It [the road-warning project] costs about $60,000 annually, but it’s worth it just in the reduction of vehicle accidents alone,” Kaminski said.

There also is an additional environmental benefit, he said, noting how underbrush, wildflowers and home gardens have sprung back to life in the city’s parks and surrounding neighborhoods as the herds have shrunk.

Deer running into vehicles and browsing in gardens also played a factor in voters’ passage of a ballot issue in six Cuyahoga County communities in 2016 to allow bow-hunting where it previously had been outlawed, said Charles Goss, Strongsville’s director of public safety. The other cities were Broadview Heights, North Royalton, Parma, Parma Heights and Seven Hills.

“I think people probably got tired of spending $300 at Petitti’s Garden Center only to have it all eaten by the deer,” Goss said.

The results were almost immediate, Goss said. Bow-hunters in the six communities harvested nearly 1,000 deer in its first two years, and deer-vehicle accidents in Strongsville dropped from 197 in 2016 to 171 last year, he said.

The program has been so popular in Strongsville, with 59 hunting permits issued last year, that the city is considering opening potential hunting in public areas and industrial properties, Goss said.

According to Ohio Department of Public Safety data for Cuyahoga County, there were fewer deer-vehicle collisions in February 2018 than any other month since at least 2013. Deer-vehicle crashes are most common during deer mating season from October to December. There is also a peak in May and June, as young deer leave their parents and move on.

Deer-vehicle accidents also have decreased gradually the past three years along the 241 miles of the Ohio Turnpike, with 310 in 2015, 295 in 2016, and 283 last year, said spokesman Brian Newbacher.

“We like to think our education campaign, ‘Don’t Veer for the Deer,’ is playing a part in that reduction” of injuries and fatalities, Newbacher said.

Jerking the steering wheel to avoid a deer collision “is one of the worst things a driver can do,” Newbacher said. Veering the vehicle traveling at high speeds can send it careening into the path of another vehicle or cause it to flip. Braking firmly and staying in your lane is safer, he said.

The turnpike’s 4-foot-tall fence also helps to keep deer off the road.

“We hope the trend continues,” Newbacher said. “The fewer deer crashes the greater likelihood of driver safety.”

To avoid hitting a deer, use these driving tips from the Insurance Information Institute:
  • Be especially attentive during peak deer hours, from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise;
  • Use caution when driving through deer-crossing zones, often marked by warning signs and in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forests;
  • Know that deer seldom run alone. If you see a deer near the road, expect others are nearby and will follow;
  • Use high beam headlights at night when there is no oncoming traffic;
  • Slow down and blow your horn to frighten the deer away;
  • Brake firmly but stay in your lane when you encounter a deer in your path. Do not swerve to avoid a deer, the leading cause of accidents, injuries and deaths. You may hit another vehicle or lose control;
  • Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in deer-vehicle crashes were not wearing their seat belt.

If you strike a deer, report the crash to local law enforcement, the sheriff’s department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources even if there is no damage to your car. Those who wish to claim the dead dear can do so through those agencies.

Originally posted on March 11, 2018 by James F. McCarty at The Plain Dealer

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