Driver caution urged as deer season peaks
West Virginia remains the state in which you are most likely to hit a deer and state officials are reminding drivers that peak season for collisions is now upon us.
The fact is borne out by the number of scattered remains and mangled carcasses along state roads this time of year.
Gary Foster, the state Division of Natural Resources supervisor for game management, said there are a number of factors that make this the worst season.
"October and November coincide with the 'rut' or peak period of the mating season for deer," Foster said. "During this time frame, deer movements and activities increase significantly, making deer more vulnerable to collisions with vehicles."
Foster said 40 percent of the state's deer collisions occur in these two months every year.
He said the state is blessed with a healthy, abundant white-tailed deer population. While population densities vary across the state, deer tend to congregate in low-lying areas.
Unfortunately, these areas also tend to be the same places highway engineers like to build roads.
Deer hunters also complicate matters; as they head into the woods, they influence the movement patterns of deer, making it more likely that they'll cross a highway and into the beam of a motorist's headlights.
This combination is why West Virginia is consistently ranked highest in deer-vehicle collisions each year.
Insurance company State Farm has ranked West Virginia as the state with the highest risk of hitting a deer for seven years running.
According to the company's latest survey, released in September, the average U.S. driver has a 1-in-174 chance of hitting a deer over the next year.
In West Virginia, though, that chance leaps to a 1-in-41 chance. (For comparison, those are slightly better odds than the 1-in-46.3 chance one has of drawing a three-of-a-kind during a hand of five-card draw poker.)
Montana, with its 1-in-65 chance, placed second, followed by Iowa with its 1-in-73 chance.
If you'd like to move to the state where you have the smallest chance of hitting a deer, say, "Aloha," to Hawaii. Drivers in the Pacific island chain face a 1 in 6,787 chance of hitting a deer over the next year.
According to State Farm, the typical deer collision caused an average of $3,414 in property damage over the last year. That was up 3.3 percent from the previous year.
However, the report said overall deer collisions were falling -- even in West Virginia.
Nationally, the deer collision rate fell 4.3 percent between 2012 and 2013. In West Virginia, the decline was even greater.
The 1-in-41 chance of hitting a deer over the next year is actually an 8.3 percent improvement compared to the results of State Farm's 2012 survey.
The company said that decline was probably due to a combination of several factors. But State Farm also said increased consumer awareness about deer collisions and ways to prevent them likely contributed to the decline.
Both State Farm and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials recommend motorists take extra precautions over the next month to reduce the chances of a collision.
Officials recommends motorists:
* Drive defensively.
* Reduce speed, particularly during early morning and between 6 and 9 p.m. -- the times when deer herds typically increase their movements.
* Drive with their headlights on, using high beams whenever possible.
* Be aware of surroundings and things that may lie in your peripheral vision.
State Farm said motorists should keep in mind that deer tend to travel in herds. Even if a driver can only see one deer, it is still likely others may be nearby but out of sight.
Once a driver spots a deer, officials recommend they reduce speed and honk their horn using short blasts.
Experts stress that drivers should not swerve or leave their lane in order to avoid a deer collision. Swerving out of the way can result in the driver losing control of the vehicle or place it in the path of another oncoming motorist.
The best course of action, experts say, is for the driver to hit the brakes firmly and attempt to stop.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4836.