WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
It’s a wonderful time to explore the county, but this is also the season for increased situational awareness when driving anywhere at any time. Today’s “Wilder Side” draws attention to unplanned interactions with white-tailed deer, encounters that can lead to property damage, injuries and deaths.
The graceful white-tailed deer is one of the most widely distributed and most numerous of all North America’s large mammals. They are very much at home in our parks, wildlands, suburbs and cities. They adapt to habitat that is available and thrive in our midst with no predators beyond coyotes and hunters. Many have natural deaths, but close to 2,000 die each year in Oakland County due to collisions with cars.
Collisions with deer were common in May and June during spring fawning when yearling deer dispersed and sought out new home ranges in a world bisected by highways. However, the majority of our deer-vehicle collisions occur during the months of October and November when “the rut” is on, the time when bucks and does are hormonally triggered into increased activity as their focus turns to reproduction. Bucks spar, test their stamina and dominance and chase after does. The increasing activity and lack of wariness raises the potential for deer-vehicle crashes, especially during darkness when they are less visible.
53,464 crashes involving deer occurred last year in Michigan, resulting in 14 fatalities. The Michigan State Police website states, “The most serious crashes occur when motorists swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or a fixed object, or when their vehicle rolls over.” They also emphasize, “About 80 percent of these crashes occur on two-lane roads between dusk and dawn.”
Regardless of the time of year, all motorists, especially motorcyclists, should be aware of the potential for deer to dart across roads at any time. It’s hard to travel for more than a few miles in some sections of our county without noting a dead deer along the roadside. The presence of that carrion can also lure in other creatures that might be on the shoulder of the road for an easy meal. Coyotes, raccoons, opossums and turkey vultures all pay visits to roadkill. It’s also important to keep in mind that deer are herd animals and when there is one, there are usually more; that means that if one bolts across the road, you should expect others to follow. Even cyclists on popular hiking and biking trails need to be wary, for the grassy edges of many of our most popular trails, such as the West Bloomfield, Polly Ann, Paint Creek and soon to open Air Line Trail, are attractive to deer and they are more likely now to dart across without “looking both ways” first.
During autumn, the greatest risk for deer-vehicle collisions are in the two hours before sunrise and shortly after sunset, but they can occur at any time on any roadway, from seldom used rural county roads, to heavily travelled I-75, I-696, M-59 and other major highways. Michigan State Police data shows that one out every of six Michigan traffic accidents in 2018 were caused by a collision with a deer.
Oakland County had 1,851 reported deer crashes in Michigan last year, the most of any county. The actual numbers are likely significantly higher since many deer-vehicular crashes go unreported. Rochester Hills has one of the most active situational awareness programs to increase public awareness and decrease the numbers of their deer-vehicular crashes. I chatted with Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe earlier this week about the electronic sign boards that have been placed at areas where deer travel corridors and natural habitats are bisected by or adjacent to highways in Rochester Hills. The flashing signs alternate every few seconds with “Deer Crash Area” and “Please Use Caution.” He explained that Rochester Hills reached a high of 219 deer-vehicle collisions in 2007 and that led to the formation of their Deer Management Advisory Committee. He stated,
“One of the recommendations by this committee is to deploy the message boards in the fall to remind motorists that the fall breeding season is the most likely time to hit a deer on our roads. The signs are moved every few weeks to cover identified hot spots from the previous year and from historical data. The signs appear to have a positive impact as the number of deer vehicle collisions in 2018 was 151. We also send out press releases, do an annual helicopter deer population survey and host a Living with Wild Neighbors program at City Hall to identify challenges of sharing our City with a large wildlife population.”
A look at Rochester Hills’ 2018 Deer/Vehicle Collision Accidents map shows the seriousness of the problem. They also have an an excellent brochure on the problem with situational awareness suggestions. Click on the links below to view them.
Road Safety Tips
- Always use caution when driving at dawn or dusk and scan roads and roadsides ahead.
- Motorcyclists should be especially alert, they have a high fatality rate when hitting deer.
- Reduce your speed at night and use high beams when possible.
- Slow down when approaching deer near the roadside, they may suddenly bolt into the road.
- Deer often travel in groups, if one deer is spotted crossing the road, be especially alert that others may follow just seconds later.
- If you travel through an area where you frequently see deer, always slow down.
- Be extra attentive when you see the iconic roadside “leaping buck sign” but never forget deer may appear anywhere at any time
- Never rely on devices, such as deer whistles mounted on bumpers to deter deer. There is no evidence they are effective. Your best defense is your own responsible behavior and practicing situational awareness.
- Be certain all vehicle occupants wear seat belts and children are properly restrained in child safety seats; they provide more of chance of lesser injury in a crash.
- Brake, don’t veer away or swerve. Swerving to avoid a deer increases the risk for hitting another vehicle or losing control of your car. Just slow down as quickly and safely as you can. Your odds for surviving an accident are better when hitting a deer rather than hitting another car, a tree, bridge abutment, signpost or rolling over.
Additional State wide information is available from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety. Click the link below to view their brochure.
Watch for Deer All Year brochure
See the number of 2018 deer crashes in your Michigan county, city or township using MLive.com’s online database.
2018 Deer-related Crashes by County
Autumn is a glorious season in Oakland County, just be sure your travels and outdoor adventures include a healthy dose of situational awareness and enjoy the wonders of the season.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.