Though work-related commutes have decreased due to COVID-19, the danger of deer crossings for those still regularly on the roads has not. October through December is rutting season, and reduced human and vehicle traffic has encouraged critters of many kinds to be found venturing into less-than-ideal habitats.
With Chattanooga’s recent black bear encounter and Hydro Generation’s reporting of a large number of spiders and varying pests in unexpected areas, teams like TVA Transmission Maintenance are also noting an increase in recent vehicle accidents due to local deer populations.
Director for Transmission Maintenance Mark Smith said that his team has experienced two collisions with deer in just the last few weeks.
“It’s possible that the fewer people the deer see, the braver they are in coming out during this time,” said Chris Cooper, Natural Resources manager.
Cooper is also one of many TVA employees who have collided with deer on the roads. “With less traffic, people and noise, you will see more wildlife. But drivers should be on high alert throughout the colder months regardless, because we’re in the middle of rutting season and deer are much more active.”
“The time change also means greater vehicular traffic from dusk to dawn, so the risk of deer collisions is a very common threat this time of year,” said Smith. “These accidents can range from minor vehicle damage to serious injuries. You only have a split second to think about it, so the greatest opportunity for safety is for everyone to be aware.”
According to State Farm’s latest report, there are an estimated 1.33 million deer, elk, moose and caribou collisions annually, and most of those occur during rutting season. Cooper and Smith agreed that virtually everyone has — or knows someone with — a deer collision story. For this reason, they offer some helpful tips to avoid future mishaps:
- Watch your speed and use your high-beam headlights when there are no oncoming cars.
- Watch attentively for deer, especially around dawn and between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. when they’re most active. And assume they have friends—where there is one there are likely to be others nearby.
- Don’t rely on deer whistles. These are aftermarket devices that some drivers put on their front bumpers to scare off animals. But the science isn’t proven, road conditions are always changing and animal behavior remains unpredictable.
- Don’t be afraid to use your horn. Deer have a tendency to turn and run when confronted with extremely loud noises.
- Brake, don’t swerve. Swerving to avoid an animal can put you at risk of hitting another vehicle, losing control of your car or confusing the animal further. It’s safer to hit an animal than it is to hit another car, a tree or a guardrail.
If you know you can’t stop, don’t hit your brakes. At highway speeds, hard braking can cause loss of control. It also dips the front end of the vehicle and increases the chances of the deer coming through your windshield.
“They can seem to come out of nowhere, so the best thing to do is be defensive in your driving and pay attention to warnings and deer crossing signs,” Cooper said. “They’re there for a reason.”