Along with beautiful colors and crisp weather, fall brings increased road hazards to central Illinois. The peak mating season, or rut, for white tailed deer across our state is late October to mid-November. During this period, deer tend to move about more freely, resulting in more collisions with vehicles. In fact, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a collision with vehicles is second only to hunting as a cause of deer mortality. IDNR and IDOT data indicate that more than 43% of deer-vehicle collisions occur in October through December, with November having the highest risk of striking a deer while driving. In 2020, 13,787 motor vehicle crashes in Illinois involved deer, and of these 13,166 caused damage to property or vehicles. Injuries resulted from 611 of these crashes, and 10 were fatal. Because deer are crepuscular (more active at dusk and dawn), most deer accidents happen between 5 and 8 a.m. and 5 and 10 p.m. Though deer collisions are most common on rural roadways, they can happen anywhere, even in urban and suburban areas. And, according to a State Farm Insurance report in 2019, the risk in our state is increasing — with a driver in that year having a one-in-144 chance of having a collision, up from a 1-in-200 chance in 2018.
The Illinois Transportation Secretary recently emphasized one important piece of advice. He said “We ask all drivers to keep a watchful eye and remember the cardinal rule: don’t veer for deer. While the urge to swerve is instinctual, it could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or drive into oncoming traffic, increasing the severity of a crash.”
Some other tips to lower your risk of hitting a deer:
- Slow down, especially at dusk and dawn.
- Deer often travel in groups — if you see one, slow down and expect more to follow.
- Pay attention to deer crossing signs — they mark high-risk areas, though you can encounter them almost anywhere.
- They are creatures of habit — make note of where you’ve seen them before.
- Except when there’s oncoming traffic, use your high beams to see farther — their eyes are reflective and are often the first thing you’ll see.
- Don’t assume a deer in the road will run off as you approach — they’re unpredictable and may bolt in any direction without warning.
- Using your horn may confuse the deer and there’s no way to predict how it will respond — flashing your lights may be more effective in scaring them off.
- Keep focused on the road, scanning for potential animal dangers.
- Avoid distractions such as electronic devices, drinking, and eating when traveling in at risk areas.
- Products such as deer whistles are unreliable and have not been proven effective.
- Of course, always buckle up — every time, every trip.
- If riding a motorcycle, protective gear is especially important in this season.
If you do hit a deer, pull off to the shoulder if possible and turn on your hazard lights. It’s best to not exit your car or try to check on the deer or remove it from the road. Instead, call 911 or contact local law enforcement for help. Illinois law requires drivers to report to police any deer-related accident with more than $1500 in damage. Except for law enforcement, Illinois law also makes it illegal to kill a deer crippled by a collision without permission from a conservation police officer.
Remember, stay alert, and DON’T VEER FOR DEER!