Deer add serious wrinkles to driving

October 01, 2007|By MICHAEL DRESSER

Bambi is out to kill you.

The adorable little fawn has grown up to be several hundred pounds of embittered, suicidal venison - holding you personally responsible for what those nasty hunters did to his mama. He's on a mission from the Deer God to break through your windshield and land in your lap.

This is all nonsense, of course, but this is the season when it would be wise to drive as if it were literally true. The October-to-December period is the peak of mating season, when deer become even more loopy than at other times of year. It's also hunting season, when deer may have solid reasons for dashing for the trees.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, more than 200 people are killed and 29,000 injured in this country each year in roughly 1.5 million deer-vehicle encounters.

It's a serious enough problem that Maryland and seven other states have joined to create a Deer-Vehicle Crash Information and Research Center to study the phenomenon and look for solutions.

According to the center's Web site, Maryland was home in 2005 to about 269,000 of the white-tailed terrorists, after hunting season. Only one person was killed in the 1,356 deer-vehicle crashes in the state, but 291 were hurt and property damage was estimated at $2.3 million - a number that looks suspiciously low. (Crash data can be found at www.deer

Highway officials and motorists have taken many different approaches to preventing deer-vehicle collisions. A few strategies have shown glimmers of effectiveness, but most devices have had all the success of Wile E. Coyote's latest gadget from the Acme Co. In this case at least, paranoia trumps paraphernalia.

Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration who has had three deer encounters, says deer are most likely to be found on the road between dusk and dawn. He says the critters love areas of mixed open land and woods - especially near water.

According to the SHA spokesman, the No. 1 rule for dealing with these hyper-cute menaces is: "Never veer for a deer."

Gischlar explains that if a deer jumps in your path too suddenly for you to stop, it's more prudent to hit the deer than to take evasive action that could put you in the path of a tree, a utility pole or an oncoming vehicle.

(My hunch is that the number of fatal accidents involving deer is significantly understated because in many cases all police find at the scene of fixed-object crashes or head-on collisions are people who can tell no tales. Deer are not terribly diligent about remaining at crash scenes.)

Gischlar also says those yellow warning signs with deer on them are there for a reason other than so people can paint red noses on them. He says they're posted after observations of concentrations of the mammals in the vicinity.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society offers some other valuable tips for vigilant drivers. I've translated them in a way for which the society is not responsible.

When you see one deer, expect co-conspirators. If one crosses the road in front of you, slow down and watch to see if others follow.

Deer tend to have favorite hangouts. If you see them congregating in a certain location on one occasion, flag the nearby roadways as danger zones.

Two-lane roads bordered by natural habitat - trees, bushes, lawns, fields - are places where you can expect deer to bound out.

Slow to a crawl when you see a deer by the roadside. They often bolt in front of an approaching car.

Tailgating is always an incredibly moronic practice, but it becomes an even dumber idea during deer mating season. It keeps you from seeing down the road, and you might have a close encounter with a deer the guy in front of you managed to avoid.

Use your brights where possible and scan the road for the reflection of headlights in their eyes. Turning down dashboard lights might help.

The Humane Society may have been too tactful to offer the following idea but I'm not:

Learn from road kill. Observe the locations near your home where you see deer carcasses and expect to encounter more lively varmints in the same area. Deer are not fast learners.

Another suggestion: In rural areas, when you hear rifle fire in the vicinity, expect deer on the run. Wouldn't you?

And while most veteran motorists in Maryland have had at least one experience with deer, many young drivers have never had the experience of how fast they can jump in front of a vehicle. Telling your teenagers to watch out for deer before they go out in the evening might earn you some rolled eyes, but the warning might sink in on some primitive level.

There is at least one upside to Maryland's large wild mammal infestation: Bambi ain't Bullwinkle. In Maine, moose account for 15 percent of the large-animal collisions but 82 percent of the human fatalities. In Maryland, they're confined to lodges.

If any readers want to share their experiences on the road with deer, moose, bison, bears or other large animals, please shoot an e-mail to the address at the end of this column.

Toll house of blues

Starting today, Marylanders have one more reason to avoid the Delaware Turnpike.

The toll for Delaware's 11-mile stretch of Interstate 95 goes up from $3 to $4. That's a ridiculous 36 cents per mile - and all too often you have to wait for an hour or more to pay tribute.

Delaware raised its turnpike toll from $2 to $3 just two years ago. How soon until it's $10?

The only recourse for Marylanders is to take one of the many routes that avoid the Delaware Toll Plaza. Or better yet, avoid the whole extortionist micro-state.

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