Autumn is here, and along with colorful leaves, crisp air, and shorter days, it means Virginia’s white-tailed deer are on the move. Fall is the breeding season for deer, and consequently deer are more active now than at any other time of the year. With the change in seasons, many motorists will be commuting in the dark, increasing the likelihood of their vehicle colliding with a deer.
One-half to two-thirds of all deer/vehicle collisions occur in the months of October, November, and December. While less than 2 percent of vehicular fatalities and injuries involve deer collisions in Virginia, hitting a deer can cause considerable damage to both people and property.
Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) estimate the population of white-tailed deer in the Commonwealth at this time of year to be approximately one million animals. DWR sets seasons and bag limits and other hunting regulations to manage the deer population. Each year, hunters in Virginia harvest approximately 220,000 deer. Without the population control that hunting provides, white-tailed deer could double their population within five years due to their rate of reproduction.
As part of its outreach mission, DWR has worked with the Virginia Department of Education to incorporate advice on avoiding collisions into the driver’s education manual used by thousands of new drivers every year. If you have questions about white-tailed deer or deer behavior, please visit the DWR’s website.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources recommends the following tips to drivers to avoid hitting a deer:
- Slow down and be attentive, particularly at night (from dusk to dawn). If one deer crosses the road as you approach, others are likely to follow.
- Deer habitually travel the same areas. Use caution when you see deer crossing signs installed in these areas by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
- Apply brakes, even stop if necessary, to avoid hitting a deer, but never swerve out of the lane to miss a deer. A collision with another vehicle, tree, or other object is likely to be more serious than hitting a deer.
- Always wear a seat belt! Even if a collision is unavoidable, you are more likely to avoid injury or death if you are wearing a seat belt.
- If you hit or kill a deer or bear while driving, immediately report the accident to a Conservation Police Officer or other law enforcement officer in the county or city where the accident occurred.
- If you kill a deer or bear while driving, you may keep it for your own use if you report the accident to a law enforcement officer where the accident occurred and the officer views the animal and gives you a possession certificate.