ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
This time of year, it would be easy to conclude deer-car collisions are up, in light of the number of deer fatalities along the Kansas highways and the number of accidents reported in the newspaper.
But Lloyd Fox, big game coordinator for Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, will offer statistics proving the number of deer-related accidents for the past year are actually down in the state.
“I haven’t looked at Marion County, but on a statewide basis they’re declining,” Fox said.
Fox gathers statistics statewide from the Kansas Highway Patrol and the county sheriffs’ offices.
In 1974, the speed limit in Kansas was reduced from 65 to 55 due to an oil embargo, Fox said.
“The number of deer-related accidents dropped as a result of the speed change,” he said.
Deer-related accidents in 1974 were 1,211, and in 1975 that number dropped to 891.
“In 1996, when the speed limit went from 55 to 65, the number of deer related accidents jumped dramatically,” Fox said.
“The deer herd continued to grow through that whole time period (from 1975 to 1995), but the effect of drivers’ speed had a dramatic influence.”
In 1995, the number of accidents totaled 6,746. They jumped in 1996 to 8,415 when the speed limit went back to 65. By 1999 the accidents were up to 10,192, but in 2000 they declined to 9,489.
Fox attributes the statewide decline to the reduction in deer population.
“Beginning in about 1997 to 1998, we started changing the deer permitting system,” he said.
“At that time, we said it would be about three years before we would start seeing a response in the deer population,” he said. The reduced figures in 2000 reflected a decrease as predicted.
A few deer hunters concerned about the scarcity of deer this year have called Fox.
“When you look at deer-related vehicle accidents per billion miles, there has been a decline in the last three years-and in some of our deer management units it’s been a rather spectacular decline,” Fox said.
Reducing the deer population reduces the number of accidents because fewer deer are on the highways.
“To control the deer population, you have to reduce the number of female deer,” Fox said. “We’ve increased the number of permits, and we’ve specified now that over half of those permits restrict the person to harvest ‘antlerless’ deer.”
As hunters harvest female deer, fewer fawns are being produced.
The most frequent accidents involving a deer are during the rut, which lasts from the middle of October to the middle of December.
“November 17 is the peak of that activity, so we’re on the back side of it now,” Fox said.
If a deer-related accident results in at least $500 worth of damage, or personal injury results, an accident report must be filled out, according to Lee Becker, Marion County sheriff.
“A lot of people say their whole car isn’t worth $500, but we don’t care about the value of the car,” Becker said. “What we care about is the amount it takes to repair the car back to its original state. So there’s a vast difference.”
Accident reports go to the Kansas Department of Transportation, and all data is put into a computer, Fox said.
“There’s 70,000 to 80,000 accidents in the state of Kansas each year, and over 9,000 of those have been accidents that involved deer.”
The total number of deer-related accidents are higher in urban and suburban areas, but the percentage of accidents is higher in the rural areas.
“In some of the rural counties, 40 to 50 percent-nearly half of the accidents that occur in a year-are reported as deer-related accidents,” he said.
Most dear-related accidents involve death to the deer and damage to the vehicle, but not human injury or death. But the odds of injury increase with the speed of the vehicle. If a car is going 70 mph and the driver loses control, the probability of personal injury is much higher, Fox said.
In recent years, one or two fatalities were reported a year, but a higher number of fatalities were reported in 1996 and 1997 when people were driving faster due to the increased speed limit.
“Also, the serious accidents will occur when people leave the road or leave their lane of traffic to avoid an accident with a deer, and they have an accident with an on-coming car or a stationary object,” Fox said.
Nighttime driving can be especially hazardous this time of year.
A driver is 20 times more likely to have an accident with a deer at night compared to the daytime for two reasons: Deer are more active at night, and a driver’s ability to detect them is poorer.
In 2000, in Marion County, 94 deer-related accidents were reported to the sheriff’s office, said Jennifer Owens, office manager with the Marion County sheriff’s office.
From Jan. 4 to Nov. 29 this year, 89 deer-related accidents were reported.
Until all the figures are in for 2001, it’s difficult to determine if deer-related accidents are down in Marion County.
Some areas in the county have more deer-related accidents than others. Some of these will be identified with highway deer-warning signs, Fox said.
“You’ll see the warning signs where there’s been repeated deer hits, and (the signs) are current,” he said. “You’ll see them a lot of times in a drainage, where a creek crosses the highway or where there’s timber on either side.”
There’s a place near Lincolnville on U.S. Highway 56/77 that has a heavy instance of deer-related accidents, Becker said.
“And of course, the Marion area seems to be a big place for deer to roam,” he said. “Anywhere where there’s water ways, like the Cottonwood River-those are the areas where we see them.”
Marvin Peterson, conservation officer with Kansas Wildlife and Parks, agrees the Lincolnville area has been a heavy area for deer-related accidents.
A lot of deer are hit on 13-mile Road (Indigo), U.S. Highway 77 just south of Lincolnville, where Clear Creek crosses, and up and down U.S. Highway 50 because of the speed traveled on those roadways, Peterson said.
Becker said when his cars get out in the morning and patrol the 13-mile Road south of Hillsboro, he notices the number of accidents taper off on that highway.
“There’s a direct correlation if we’re out running radar and get the cars to slow down,” he said. “Then the number of accidents go down.”
One close call with a deer occurred a few years ago when an officer responded to an accident by Florence on Highway 77, Becker said.
“A deputy hit a deer, and the antler actually went through the windshield and into the dash of the patrol car,” he said. “So it’s a very scary proposition.”
“This year we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve not had any deer accidents involving our patrol cars,” Becker said.