Ask a Specialist: tips for avoiding vehicle-deer collisions

Deer are herbivores, eating leaves, shoots, soft vegetation and leafy browse plants such as bitterbrush and sagebrush. They typically inhabit higher elevations in the spring and summer in Utah and move to lower elevations in the fall and winter as snow covers their preferred forage. During these annual migrations, the potential for deer-human conflicts increases as deer often cross highways that transect their migration areas. These migrations typically peak at night. In the winter with diminished light hours, the risk of drivers encountering deer during regular commutes often increases.

Additional conflicts may occur as deer seek forage in the backyards or parks of urban developments that now dot their once traditional winter ranges. The magnitude of these conflicts increases when winter snow comes early and cold temperatures persist longer into the spring. Deer may become bolder as hunger overrules their fear of humans. These circumstances can cause more deer damage in urban and rural landscapes, increased deer-vehicle collisions and, ultimately, more dead deer.

Consider these tips to reduce the risk of deer-vehicle collisions.

*  Drive cautiously in areas with deer warning signs posted. Research conducted by the Berryman Institute at Utah State University shows that most motorists become oblivious to these signs as they regularly travel a route and do not see deer.

* Buckle up. Drive the posted speed limit, and drive slower at night. Be alert and drive slowly when you see deer along the road.

* Scan the side of the road to watch for moving deer. Deer often travel in groups, so the deer you hit may not be the one you see, but the one following it.

* While driving at night, use your high beams where possible to increase your vision field.

* If a collision with a deer is unavoidable, do not swerve. If you swerve at high speeds, you increase the risk of losing control of your vehicle or crossing into oncoming traffic.

* When traveling a multi-lane road, travel in the inside or passing lane as much as possible. This will increase your scope of vision and afford you more reaction time.

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