When traveling along almost any rural Kansas highway, it’s common to see deer carcasses lining the ditches. Deer are known to be more active in the fall months, which often leads to a spike in the number of vehicle/deer accidents.
While the peak of deer mating season has passed, the animals often continue to be active through December.
“Every day, I open up the (crash) logs and see that we’ve worked at least one, if not more, deer crashes in northwest Kansas,” said Trooper Tod Hileman, public information officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol’s northwest Kansas troop. “It continues all year long. It’s just the heaviest in October, November and December, with November being the worst. December isn’t much better.”
Several factors combine to increase the risk of deer accidents this time of year. The number of people on the road usually spikes during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Deer are active due to rut and the hunting season, and also are moving to new habitats as crops are harvested and the landscape changes, according to information from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Shorter days in the fall also mean dusk and dawn often coincide with heavy commuter traffic.
Last year, there were 10,242 reported deer-related accidents statewide, resulting in seven deaths and 597 injuries.
Many counties in northwest Kansas saw high numbers of accidents, with Ellis County reporting 106 with six injuries and no fatalities, according to information from the Kansas Highway Patrol’s state office.
Norton County reported 111 deer/vehicle accidents, with 110 in Rooks and 118 in Rush. Russell County had the highest number in the region, with 127 accident reports, one fatality and six injuries last year.
Ellis, Russell and Norton counties seem to consistently report high numbers of deer-related crashes, Hileman said, noting drivers should heed safety precautions to help reduce the risk of a serious accident.
“Use high beams whenever you can,” he said. “Don’t out-drive your headlights.”
Drivers also should take caution to watch for deer near the roadway, especially at dawn and dusk when local wildlife is more active. And if you see a deer, remember there likely are more nearby, as the animals seldom travel alone, according to KDWPT.
It’s also a good idea to reduce speed of travel and be particularly alert near wooded areas, green spaces and near bodies of water — all of which are likely to attract deer. Deer crossing signs also indicate areas of high incidence.
Hileman said it’s also important that — should a deer cross your path and make an accident unavoidable — motorists do not swerve to avoid striking the animal. It’s better to take a risk of a head-on deer collision than to lose control of the vehicle, which can cause rollover accidents.
“We recommend you strike the animal, but take as much speed off as you can before,” he said. “That’s where we see the really bad crashes is when somebody tries to make an evasive maneuver and they end up losing control of their vehicles. It went from front-end damage to now they’re rolling over and at a much higher risk of them getting hurt.”
It’s essential to make sure all passengers are buckled up and children are properly restrained.
If your vehicle strikes a deer, emergency officials urge residents to remain calm. It’s advised to reduce speed, pull onto the shoulder as far as possible, turn on hazard lights and call 911. Do not worry about the animal.
Residents are encouraged to remain buckled up and in their vehicles if it is safe to do so, as is it possible a vehicle on the shoulder could be struck by another approaching vehicle.