Deer can be many things. Majestic. Pests. Prey. King of the forest, if Disney can be trusted.
But too often for Pennsylvania drivers, theyre road kill, and expensive ones at that.
PennDOT tracks all deer-related accidents, whether its someone slamming into Bambi or swerving off the road or into a another vehicle to avoid him. Last year saw a new record in the Keystone State with 5,467 reported deer-related accidents.
Lehigh and Northampton counties had their fair share of those crashes with 104 and 94 such accidents last year. Thankfully, most of them resulted in nothing but property damage. One of them, a freak chain reaction crash on Route 33, left two motorcyclists dead.
A PennDOT map of the crashes revealed that section of Route 33 around Wind Gap and Stockertown saw seven deer-related accidents last year. Other clusters of accidents popped up:
While the numbers arent good locally, the deer may be safer in the Lehigh Valley than in surrounding regions. Bucks County, appropriately, had 228 deer-related accidents third highest in the state. Deer caused 203 accidents in Montgomery County. Monroe had 199. Berks County saw 176.
Pennsylvania drivers hit deer at the third highest rate in the nation, according to a study released last month by the insurance company State Farm. Pennsylvanians had a 1 in 63 chance of a deer-related accident in the last fiscal year, the study found, trailing only West Virginia (a 1 in 43 chance) and Montana (a 1 in 57 chance).
Those crashes arent cheap. The national average insurance claim amounts to $4,179.
Drivers should be particularly vigilant now that were in the thick of mating season, which runs from October to December. Normally, deer are hesitant to cross busy roads or stick close to populated areas. But theyre more likely to take risks or be distracted when in heat.
But what are you supposed to do when you find a deer in your path? Common sense says to brake when something darts in front of you, but a persistent urban legend recommends speeding up so the deer wont go through your windshield.
A tip offered by Geico, another insurance company, makes the most sense to me. The company recommends drivers break sharply if they see a deer in their lane. If they cant avoid hitting the deer, drivers should release the break just before impact.
Slamming the breaks will slow you down, decreasing the force of the crash. The sudden stop will cause your nose to dip, but releasing the break will return it to its regular position. This way, your grille will serve more as a hood than a ramp.
State Farm and Geico offered a number of other tips drivers should keep in mind.
Lastly, if you hit a deer or find a dead one on a state road, report it to PennDOT by calling 1-800-FIX-ROAD. Those carcasses can become road hazards that can create other accidents or attract scavengers that will dart across the road.
Unfortunately, I can attest to this first hand. A few years ago, Mrs. Road Warrior and I were driving on Interstate 78 when the car in front of us swerved suddenly. A dead stag lay on the shoulder with its head solidly in the right lane. With little time to react, Mrs. Road Warrior screamed and did her best to avoid its antlers. Amazingly, the car was no worse for wear other than a gruesome new coating.
When we told family what happened, they were incredulous that we managed to hit a dead deer. What, it just jumped out in front of you?