BY ALLYSON JUNKERMEIER
During the season when deer are the most active, motorists are urged to be attentive while driving and to look out for white-tailed deer to avoid collisions. Nearly half of New Jersey deer collisions happen during this time due to the rutting season.
“I have noticed that interactions with deer in the roadways are more common during this time of the year,” said Maria Mederos, a Jefferson Township resident. “I just always assumed it was because they’re trying to avoid being hunted.”
Through the months of Oct to Dec, white-tailed deer are in their rutting season, the time they search for mates. During this time of year, deer can jump into the roads without any warning, making it dangerous for motorists.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection advises drivers to be extra alert during the early morning hours and around sunset, when not only are bucks most actively pursuing does, but also when driving conditions are the worst due to visibility and sun glare.
“About two weeks ago as I was traveling on Route 46 in Budd Lake, N.J., I hit a deer after swerving around a car that stopped short to avoid it,” said Carol Ramirez, a County College of Morris student. “My car wasn’t totaled, but the damage was really bad. And I couldn’t drive it home.”
According to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, approximately half of all animal-vehicle collisions happen between Oct and Dec, and three-quarters of those crashes occur between dusk and dawn. Also, nine out of ten accidents involve deer.
Male deer can weigh 150 pounds or more, causing some severe damage, especially at a high speed. NJTPA likes to remind people that deer can show up anywhere, even in more urban areas. Morris County, a mostly suburban county, had the third most animal-vehicle crash reports in 2013, according to the NJTPA website.
“Honestly, I expect to see deer on the back roads but never on a busy highway,” Ramirez said. “My accident really made me open my eyes when it comes to the dangers of deer.”
While staying alert for deer, remember that multiple deer can cross the road, usually in a single line. NJDEP also encourages drivers to alert the Department of Transportation of any dead deer on the side of the road, especially on state highway systems.
“As long as you take it easy, pay attention and look out for any movement along the road, you should be able to avoid any collisions with deer and other animals,” said Jim Wilks, a local driving instructor. “Just be smart when it comes to driving. Never do anything stupid, and never, ever use your cellphone while behind the wheel.”
For more information on the rutting season or tips on how to handle deer on the road, visit the NJDEP website. Some of the tips the department gives include wearing a seatbelt, paying attention to deer crossing signs, not tailgating and using high beams after dark when there is no oncoming traffic. They also suggest slowing down when a motorist spots a deer, to wait for it to pass.
“The best advice I can give is to never swerve. Just break hard and hold on to the steering wheel,” Wilks said. “It’s always best to just hit the deer, instead of something worse.”