N.C. automobile crashes involving deer reached all-time high in 2002

OCTOBER 27, 2003, CHAPEL HILL — Reportable automobile crashes involving deer in North Carolina reached an all-time high during 2002, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows.

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center analysis of state accident figures revealed 14,002 crashes in which the fleet animals figured. Deer were not a known factor in 207,893 other crashes last year.

Although mishaps involving deer usually do not result in injuries to drivers or passengers and only infrequently cause deaths among drivers or passengers, estimates are that they result in some $31 million in property damage across the state.

"The number of deer-related crashes continues to increase every year," said Dr. Douglas Robertson, center director. "More than one in 20 reported crashes in the state is now deer-related, and we're still seeing several counties where one or more out of every three crashes involves a deer."

From the many anecdotal reports the center has received, the figures probably are just a fraction of the real number of deer-motor vehicle crashes, he said. That is because records are generated only when police officers write narratives about crashes and include the word 'deer.' When less than $1,000 damage and no injuries occur, drivers usually do not report the accidents.

Senior database analyst Eric A. Rodgman conducted the record search and evaluation in what has become an annual effort. Center staff continues the computer runs as a public service since the first time they did it in 1995, they said the results stunned them. Last year, he said, 6.3 percent of all state auto crashes involved deer, up from 4 percent in 1994.

"Interestingly enough, looking just at the frequency of reported deer crashes, Wake County had the most with 786, followed Duplin with 384, Pitt with 362, Union with 351 and Rockingham with 346," Rodgman said. "Counties with the next highest number of such accidents were Guilford, Randolph, Pender, Johnston and Orange."

The counties with the fewest deer crashes, he said, were Swain with one and Graham with two. Madison, Jackson and Clay counties reported five, six and seven accidents, respectively.

"Looking at the percentage of crashes in each county that involved deer, Hyde was the largest with 40.4 percent followed by Tyrrell, Caswell, Pender and Washington, with 35.2 percent, 34.7 percent, 27.9 percent and 26.7 percent, respectively," Rodgman said. "Buncombe, Swain, Jackson and Haywood all had fewer than 1 percent, and Mecklenburg was 1 percent exactly."

Accidents involving deer increased 57 percent between 1994 and last year, he said. Of the fatal crashes in 2002, only eight were deer-related. Since 1994, the state's population has grown 20 percent, and the number of vehicle miles driven jumped 25 percent.

Evin Stanford, deer biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said the state's deer population now stands at between 1 million and 1.1 million animals, up from 350,000 in 1980. That population has been relatively stable over about the past five years.

"People think there has been an explosion in the deer population causing these accidents, but really they are increasing because of the skyrocketing number of vehicles on our roads and the number of miles driven," Stanford said.

"We are again in the season where deer are out foraging and moving around more," center director Robertson said. "We hope drivers will wear their safety belts and be especially careful driving in darkness from October through February when most of these crashes happen and also when driving on secondary roads."

The scientist recommends that people drive slower around deer crossings.

"If you see a deer run across the road, slow down because they usually travel in groups," he said. "If you hit one, do not approach it, but rather call for help if possible."

Other recommendations by the N.C. Department of Transportation are that drivers use high beams when possible, watch for eyes reflected in the headlights and honk their horns if they see deer. Another is that they exercise extra caution when driving in more rural areas deer are known to frequent.

"Remember that it may be better to actually hit deer than to attempt to avoid them by steering off the road and striking trees, fences, going down into ditches and losing control of the vehicle," Rodgman said.

In previous years, UNC reporting of the N.C. deer crashes has spawned interest from many news agencies across the United States since the problem is a national one, and North Carolina has among the best highway statistics in the country, he said.

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Note: Robertson and Rodgman can be reached at (919) 962-8703 and 962-8709, respectively. Stanford, who works out of his home, can be reached at (252) 940-0218 or 916-2259 (cell).

Highway Safety Research Center Contact: Shawna Browne, (919) 962-7803

News Services Contacts: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596, Karen Moon, 962-8595

Media Contacts

Caroline Dickson
919.962.5835
dickson@hsrc.unc.edu

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