By: Abigayle Williams
It was foggy outside. She was listening to her favorite country station driving down M-222. Tara Kelly, of Shelbyville, had driven that same route many times before as she headed home from work, always on the lookout for deer. But this time, she didn’t see it soon enough. A deer crossed in front of her car’s path and she couldn’t avoid hitting it. The deer appeared to be injured but nonetheless continued across the road after the collision. The driver’s side light cover on her car was damaged. “I’m glad that was the only thing,” Kelly said.
That wasn’t Kelly’s only car-deer collision that year, however. Earlier that winter, Kelly was driving down 11th Street in Martin and saw a deer on the left side of the road. When she looked up there was another one right in front of her. “I hit its rump,” she said. Both her vehicle and the deer were OK.
Kelly’s two crashes accounted for two of the nearly 50,000 vehicle/deer crashes that took place in Michigan last year, according to a survey by the Office of Highway Safety Planning. About 900 of those accidents occurred in Kalamazoo. An average of 146 vehicle/deer crashes take place in Michigan every day, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which also states that there is an increase in vehicle/deer crashes during the months of October and November.
Lt. Donald Ester of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department said deer start moving because they’re in search of food and it’s the rutting season. They also move about because something has scared them. They especially come out in the early morning hours during hunting season. This explains the increase of vehicle/deer crashes in the months of October and November. The fall bow hunting season began Oct. 1 and ends Nov. 14. Gun begins Nov. 15 through the end of the month, then bow starts up again Dec1 and ends Jan. 1.
Deer get scared and flee the wooded areas due to the gun shots and the increase of activity in the fields they inhabit. “Historically, deer activity increases at sunset or the early evening hours when the temperature changes,” Ester said. The fall season is when deer really move.
Ester said accidents happen wherever there is a high volume of traffic. U.S. 131 and I-94 usually experience a high amount of vehicle/deer accidents. “But what’s most important is to know your surroundings, be aware of the deer crossing signs and areas that have a high deer population,” Ester said.
Sharon Lamb of Martin also experienced a vehicle/deer crash last year. Last summer around 5 a.m., Lamb was driving southbound on U.S. 131 when she hit a deer near D Avenue. A pickup truck was passing her and the deer seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Lamb said. She said that it damaged her front fender and that she had to have her car towed from her work. The deer ran off.
Ester said that these types of crashes don’t just take place on the highways. They also take place on country roads.
Another vehicle/deer accident that occurred on the back roads happened to Tara Kelly’s cousin, Luke Kelly of Delton and his brother were driving down 8th Street heading toward school when a deer ran out in front of them. Kelly wasn’t paying attention to the road in front of him and hit the deer head on. He totaled his car and the deer ended up flying 50 yards away from the vehicle.
Ester said the most recent death due to a vehicle/deer crash occurred in February of 2013 on M-89 in Ross Township. A 68-year-old woman was unable to avoid a collision and was killed when the deer came through her windshield, striking her.
When a deer crosses the path of a car, authorities suggest the following:
* Don’t swerve.
* Safely hit the brakes.
* Grip the wheel and slow down.
Despite cautious driving habits, however, Mark Mills of the Department of Natural Resources for the Allegan State Game Area made a point: “If deer want to get across the road, they will find a way to do it.”