The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office responded to 15 deer-involved crashes on this past Monday alone. During November, that’s normal for the area.
More than 20 percent of all deer-involved car crashes happen in the month of November.
“We take so many car-deer crashes this time of year,” said Sgt. Steve Austin of the Sheriff’s Office. “Deer are so unpredictable that it’s just a matter of time before somebody hits one. Realistically, we take car-deer crashes all year long, but we take them in bunches in October and November.”
In the past three years, Ottawa County has had a 21.7 percent increase in deer-involved crashes, according to data from the Office of Highway Safety Planning. In 2014, the county had 874 deer-involved crashes. Last year, 1,116 deer-involved crashes were reported.
While Allegan County’s increase is less drastic, the county still saw a 6.6 percent increase in deer-involved crashes during that same timeframe. Last year, there were 886 such crashes recorded in Allegan County. In total, there have been 5,515 deer-involved crashes between the two counties since 2014.
In 2016, State Farm Insurance ranked Michigan as the eighth-most-likely state in the U.S. for drivers to be in a deer crash. Other states where drivers are more likely to get in a deer crash are Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Montana and West Virginia.
On average, a deer crash can cost around $4,000 in damages.
In both Allegan and Ottawa counties, the vast majority of deer-involved crashes take place on local roads, often ones that are more rural.
So far this year, Austin said there have been 785 deer-involved crashes in Ottawa County, resulting in 25 injuries.
“We run just over 5,500 crashes per year, so deer are a big percentage of that,” he said. “They’re all over the county. It’s difficult to control because they’re all over. We can’t get rid of them.”
Most of the time, crashes involving deer result in damage to only the car. How a driver responds to a deer in the road can drastically change the likelihood of being injured in the crash.
“It’s hard to do damage to your car and hit the deer, but you’re better off hitting the deer,” Austin said. “When people swerve, they roll their car over or go off the road. Don’t try and swerve to miss it, just brake firmly and brace yourself.”
The Michigan State Police also recommends hitting the deer and braking, especially when there are other vehicles in the area.
“The most serious crashes occur when motorists swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or a fixed object,” the state police website states. Michigan has 2 million deer, making deer-involved crashes a problem all year, not just during the fall. The MSP estimates there are 50,000 such crashes per year statewide.
To avoid a deer-involved crash, police recommend being aware and sober, especially during dawn and dusk when deer are most active. Deer travel together, so if drivers see one deer, it’s probable that more will follow.
Nearly 80 percent of all deer-involved crashes in Allegan and Ottawa counties take place between 5 and 9 a.m., then again from 5 p.m. to midnight. During those two windows, 862 of the 1,116 deer-involved crashes in Ottawa County were reported last year.
All these crashes mean that law enforcement officials deal with a significant number of deer carcasses. What happens to those deer is up to the drivers in the crashes.
“It’s a lot of dead deer,” Austin said. “The good deer, a lot of people want to take them home. About half go ahead and eat them. The ones left out in public view, the Road Commission comes out and picks them up.”
Austin warned, though, that even some of the seemingly more intact deer can have such extreme internal injuries that any meat harvesting is impossible.
More often, Austin said he only sees property damage to the vehicles involved in the crashes. As November continues, he reminds all drivers to be vigilant when driving during peak deer times and to report all deer-involved crashes to the nearest police agency.
“You can see their eyes, but you have to be looking for the deer,” he said. “An inexperienced driver is going to lose control and have serious injuries. People just have to pay attention.”