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Deer-motor vehicle crashes in NC reach record high

Motor vehicle crashes involving deer remain a serious, growing problem across the country. The UNC Highway Safety Research Center recently completed a data analysis of 2004 motor vehicle crashes involving deer on North Carolina roadways. These types of crashes set a record level last year totalling15,509 crashes and resulted in 9 fatalities to motorists and an estimated $36 million in property damage.

Of the 9 fatal crashes involving deer, drivers often got in trouble not actually hitting deer but by trying to avoid them and ending up in a collision with a fixed object such as a tree or vehicle. In fact, for fatal deer crashes, 77 percent of drivers were thought to have swerved to avoid the animals. In half of the collisions in which drivers were injured, drivers had veered to avoid the animals.

Deer-vehicle crashes tend to occur most frequently in the months of October, November, and December. These types of crashes are also more likely to occur between the hours of 5 am and 7 am and between 6 pm and midnight.  Crashes involving deer comprised 6.7 percent of all reportable crashes in the state, the same percentage of total crashes a year prior in 2003.  

The analysis also showed that the likelihood of a deer-related crash is greater the further east you travel in North Carolina. In the mountain counties, about 35 percent of these counties are above the state average for deer-related crashes.  As you move eastward, the Piedmont has about 67 percent of their counties above the state average while the coastal counties have about 83 percent of their counties above the state average.

In a county by county comparison of the data, Bertie, Jones, Washington, Duplin, Gates, Pender, Caswell, and Hyde counties each had deer-related crash ratios that were at least 5 times the state average. In terms of absolute numbers, Wake County topped the list with 900 reported deer crashes, which is nearly double the next leading county in the state.  Jackson County had the least as there were no cases indicated in the 2004 data.

The analysis, led by Senior Database Analyst Eric A. Rodgman, is derived from the narratives of the crash reports submitted by investigating law enforcement officers following deer-vehicle crashes reported to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles in 2004. Therefore, these figures only reflect the total number of reported deer-related crashes. There is evidence that a great many more of these crashes occur than are reported to law enforcement agencies.

For complete county-by-county crash data, please click here.

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center offers the following tips for lowering your risk of a crash with a deer.

  • Reduce your speed in areas with a large deer population and where there are deer warning signs.
  • Always wear your seat belt!  It's your best protection from injuries in the event of a crash.
  • Watch for eyes reflecting in your headlights. Try to look far down the road and scan the roadsides, especially when driving through field edges, heavily wooded areas, or posted deer crossing areas. At night, use your high-beam headlights to increase your sight distance.The sooner you see a deer on or approaching a road, the better your chances of avoiding a crash.
  • While a crash involving a deer can happen at any time, be especially careful during the early morning and evening hours and during the months of October, November and December.
  • Remember that deer travel in herds.  If you see one deer cross the road in front of you, don't assume that all is clear. Deer herds can be fairly large, and the animals often move one right behind the other.
  • Do not place confidence in "deer whistles" or other "ultra-sonic" devices that claim to prevent deer collisions.
  • Maintain control of your vehicle. If a crash with a deer is inevitable, it is important that you not lose control of your vehicle or veer into the path of an oncoming vehicle to avoid contact with an animal. Loss of control usually results in a more serious crash.

The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center
730 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Suite 300  |  Campus Box 3430  |  Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3430
Phone: 919.962.2203  |  Fax: 919.962.8710