Wildlife Making Texas Highways Hazardous

October 17, 2006

The increasing number of motorists and deer in Texas are leading to a greater frequency of collisions between the two on the state’s roadways. Cooler weather and the annual rut season should make for even more hazardous conditions in the coming weeks.

Texas leads all other states in motorist who have been killed in vehicle-animal collisions. Texas also has the largest deer population in the country. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the state’s abundant wildlife and additional traffic have made Texas the most hazardous state for vehicle-animal crashes every year since 2000.

Several roadways in Texas are more dangerous than others, but Texas Parks and Wildlife officials say deer are moving into areas all over the state. Last year in Kerr County alone, Texas Department of Transportation employees removed more than 1,500 dead deer off of the county’s roadways.

Wayne Bordovsky with the Texas Department of Transportation Kerr County District Office says the 1,500 deer doesn’t reflect all of the vehicle-animal collisions that occurred in 2005. “That number didn’t count the number of deer that were struck by vehicles and later died off the roadway or the deer that were killed within the city limits of Kerrville.”

Texas Department of Public Safety officials say many accidents involving deer are never reported to area law enforcement officials, but are handled by local insurance agents.

Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, says your auto insurance policy will protect you if your vehicle strikes an animal. “An auto policy with comprehensive coverage will pay for repairing or replacing a vehicle after the accident, minus the deductible,” Hanna said. “Personal injury protection (PIP) will provide up to the limit purchased for any injuries the driver or passengers might sustain in the collision. You will want to report the accident to your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible.”

In Llano County, which calls itself the Deer Capital of Texas, deer hunting and traffic accidents involving deer both work their way into the economy. Eighty percent of the body work taking place at the Economy Body and Paint Shop in Llano involves repairing vehicles that have collided with deer.

“We had one lady who brought her SUV in for repair after hitting a deer,” said Daniel Baker of Economy Body and Paint. “We repaired her damaged front fender and added a new grill guard. In less than a week she was back in here because she had struck another deer that had bounced off the grill and went through her front windshield.”

L. David Sinclair, chief of wildlife enforcement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said many deer tend to venture near roadways because that’s where they can find more food and greener grass because of rain runoff from the pavement. Sinclair said dusk and full moon evenings bring out the deer.

Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Stephen Bynum in Lampasas said drivers should note deer behavior. “It’s not the deer that are grazing on the side of the road that drivers should be concerned with. It’s the deer that are moving and the herd mentality of others that are following that you need to be watching.”

Bynum said drivers should also be holding the steering wheel in a 10 and 2 position. “If you hit a deer, oftentimes, your air bag will deploy and I have seen numerous broken arms and broken noses where the driver was not holding onto the steering wheel properly.”

Bynum said his current patrol car has been struck twice by deer. Both times, he had brought his vehicle to a complete stop and the deer ran into the side of his car.

If you cannot avoid a head on collision with a deer, Bynum advices you hold onto your steering wheel tightly, driving straight forward and riding out whatever happens. “Trying to dodge a deer at a high rate of speed can result in a rollover and I’ve never seen the damage from hitting a deer as bad as a rollover,” Bynum said.

More than one million vehicle-deer collisions occur each year in the United States resulting in more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. The IIHS says three out of every four vehicle-animal collisions in the U.S. involves deer.

-Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Lee Snead in Fredericksburg said the state’s newest road hazard has become feral hogs. “Unlike deer that will damage the outside of a vehicle, feral hogs will tear up the bottom of a car or truck.”

-Many vehicle-animal crashes are unavoidable, but recognizing the danger and being prepared can save lives.

-Drivers are advised to scan roadways for deer; if at night, motorists should look for deer eye reflections. Passengers can help “keep an eye out for deer.”

-Keep headlights on high beam as much as possible without blinding other drivers. When a deer is spotted, drivers should reduce speed but maintain control. Use emergency flashers or pump the brakes to alert vehicles approaching from behind.

-Do not attempt to steer into oncoming traffic or veer off the roadway to avoid colliding with an animal.

-If a deer is observed crossing the road, reduce speed Deer are social animals and often travel in family groups, so it is likely that others will follow.

-If you collide with an animal, immediately turn on your flashers and move onto the shoulder to avoid oncoming traffic.

-Call 911 to report the mishap and contact your insurance agent or insurance company representative to repair your vehicle.

Source: Insurance Council of Texas

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