In Transit: How to buck the trend of deer crashes this fall

  • Stay alert this fall as mating season brings unexpected forays by deer onto local roads like this one on Route 31 in Elgin.

    Stay alert this fall as mating season brings unexpected forays by deer onto local roads like this one on Route 31 in Elgin. Daily Herald File Photo

  • A deer bounding on to Route 12 in Round Lake caused a rollover crash but left the vehicle occupants unharmed.

    A deer bounding on to Route 12 in Round Lake caused a rollover crash but left the vehicle occupants unharmed. Daily Herald File Photo

Posted9/23/2019 5:30 AM

It's autumn, when a buck's thoughts turn from noshing on grass to romantic trysts under the harvest moon.

And that means you, suburban driver, need to slow down and pay attention near wooded areas, especially at dusk and dawn.


During fall mating season, deer "tend to have that one thing on their minds and they're not paying attention to vehicles," Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Tim Preuss said.

Think you're charmed? Don't, experts warn.

Statewide, "animal collisions account for 35% of Farmers Insurance comprehensive claims during the fall," Chief Claims Compliance Officer Jim Taylor said.

Across Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Allstate Insurance handled more than 6,000 claims involving animals, mostly deer, in 2018. Damages typically exceeded $3,000 for repairs.

The Illinois Department of Transportation recorded 15,004 deer crashes in 2017, about 4.8% of total collisions. Of those, 19% occurred in daytime and 65% in unlit areas after dark.

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So, how do you stay safe?

Besides constant vigilance near forest preserves, AAA recommends using high-beams at dark if there are no streetlights or oncoming traffic.

Also, avoid driving behaviors or impairments that reduce your reaction time, such as alcohol or drugs, including prescription medication, spokesman Nicholas Jarmusz said.

"If a collision is unavoidable, apply the brakes firmly and remain in your lane. Swerving to avoid an animal can cause loss of control, which could result in a serious crash involving more vehicles."

Asked about the no-swerving theory, Kane County Undersheriff Pat Gengler noted it depends on the driving scenario.

"Swerve out of the way at 55 mph into the oncoming lane of traffic or the side of the road where a tree is at -- yes, it's better to hit the deer," he said. "Swerve if you are at a low speed and it is safe to do so, that's a different story.


"It really comes down to being aware and not distracted when you are driving."

Ben Hecht knows a thing or two about deer crashes because he's seen a thing or two as a DuPage County sheriff's deputy.

One that sticks in the mind after 15 years on the force occurred at night on Geneva Road, west of Central DuPage Hospital.

"The road on that stretch is pretty much unlit," Hecht recalled. The driver was unharmed but the deer was killed and the "car got a lot of damage." As he took the crash report, a nearby homeowner approached.

"He said, 'I want the deer.' Then, the guy who hit it said, 'I want the deer.'" As the arbiter of venison justice, Hecht made a call. "If you hit it -- you get it," he reasoned.

Out of the blue, a passing car stopped. The driver got out and said, "'I want the deer,'" Hecht recounted. "I said, 'well, you're third in line.'"

One of his least favorite jobs is euthanizing deer with fatal wounds.

"It's necessary so they don't suffer, but it's tough," he said. "I'd rather deal with an armed suspect."

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Digging into deer data

Of 15,004 deer-related crashes in Illinois in 2017, three were fatal and 603 collisions involved injuries. About 23% occurred in urban areas. Looking at 2017 serious or fatal crashes in urban areas, 53% were on state routes, 24% were on interstates, and 24% on local streets and roads.

One more thing

Why are deer so active after dark? Research shows deer rest during the day and "do the majority of their movements at dawn and dusk," said Preuss, the IDNR deer project manager. Mating season hits its peak in October when "an adult male deer will mate with multiple females. They will travel a lot searching for females to mate and in the course of the movement, cross roads more frequently."

You should know

Gas prices are all over the map after the drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields cut production, but AAA expects stabilization soon, Jarmusz said.

"It's likely that the worst is behind us in terms of this incident. The Saudi Energy Minister said yesterday that they had already restored half of the lost production capacity, and expected to have the rest back online by the end of the month," he explained. "Averages in Chicago have already reversed course, dropping a penny in the last day. Barring any more unforeseen circumstances or incidents, prices should return to normal soon, with the usual decreases as we head into the fall/winter."

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