- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Maryland and Virginia officials are preparing for an increase in deer-related car accidents this fall, after two persons were killed in separate crashes last month.

“There seem to be more [deer-related] crashes this year than in the past,” says Earl Hodnett, a wildlife biologist for the Fairfax County Police Department. “We had been on a nice downward slope for a few years. But now, for unclear reasons, the crashes are increasing. I am afraid to see what that means for fall.”

Deer mate in the fall, and their increased populations in the region — along with an increase in the number of drivers — provide a greater chance of deer-car encounters, authorities say. Between 1.2 and 1.3 million deer inhabit Maryland and Virginia, more than twice as many as in 1600.

Doug Hotton, deer-project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), said his staff is warning motorists of the dangers deer pose on the roads as hunting and mating seasons begin later this month.

“We want everyone to be more cautious,” Mr. Hotton said. “If you drive enough, you can be a potential target, so you have to be careful. More roads and more people driving on those roads can create a greater potential for such accidents to occur.”

Two persons in Maryland died in deer-related collisions last month.

Montgomery County Police Officer Joseph A. Mattingly Jr., 51, was killed Sept. 13 in a single-car accident on Bradley Boulevard in Montgomery County. Police said he likely swerved into the center guard rail to avoid hitting a deer, though the cause of the crash was not confirmed.

Santos Henbanes , 20, of Mount Airy, Md. was killed Sept. 18 in Howard County when a deer crashed through the windshield of a Ford Econoline van he was riding in with four others. The deer lept into the northbound lanes of Long Corner Road and struck a Subaru. The impact threw the deer into the southbound lanes where it hit the van. The four other passengers were injured.

Maryland has about 290,000 deer and Virginia has 900,000 to 1 million, according to the latest official figures. The District keeps no official record of its deer population, but the 61-square-mile city likely has just a fraction of the number found in the neighboring states.

Deer-related car accidents typically increase in the fall, especially during mating and hunting seasons, state officials said. That’s when deer are out in full force running toward their mates and away from hunters, frequently across streets and highways.

“Many times a driver is distracted by the deer he just saw and hits the next one that leaps in front of him,” Mr. Hodnett said.

Deer are most active at dawn and dusk, hours that will coincide with rush hours when daylight saving time ends this month.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, between one-half and two-thirds of all deer-car collisions occur in November and December, the peak of mating season.

“The reason deer are bolting across the road is less because of hunting season and more because bucks are giving chase,” said Julia Dixon, a spokeswoman for the state’s Game and Inland Fisheries. “They are even more unpredictable because there is only one thing on their mind.”

There were 3,691 deer-related car crashes in Maryland last year. Montgomery County logged the highest number with 2,162. Howard County was second with 923. Thirteen persons were injured in such accidents statewide last year. There were no deaths last year.

Virginia had 4,889 such crashes last year. Loudoun County logged the highest number in Northern Virginia with 300. Fairfax County was second with 195. Prince William County logged 171 crashes, according to statistics compiled by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which keeps track of such crashes by county. One person died and 424 were injured in such crashes statewide.

Damage in Maryland and Virginia last year for deer-related accidents totaled about $18 million, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.

Nationwide, there were an estimated 500,000 deer-related collisions that killed at least 83 persons last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, a regional motor club.

Officials in Maryland and Virginia said they try their best to compile records of deer-related accidents. But the task is difficult because most collisions are not reported, or the causes of those accidents are not properly identified. Most accidents occur when a motorist swerves to miss a deer and hits a tree or a utility pole.

Unlike Maryland’s, Virginia law requires motorists to report deer-related accidents to local police. Still, state officials have a hard time tracking the information because each agency categorizes it differently.

“That does not mean that Fairfax County had fewer deer hit than Montgomery County,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA. “It just means Fairfax County is not doing as good a job of reporting them.”

Mr. Anderson said the county may have had as many as 10,000 crashes last year. “It seems wherever there is a car, there is a deer,” he said.

Montgomery County recorded 2,162 accidents last year. But an annual report issued by the Montgomery County Deer Management Program stated “the real number of collisions lay between 3,000 and 4,000 per year in Montgomery County.”

The District does not keep records of traffic accidents involving deer, but most of them occur in and around Rock Creek Park in upper Northwest.

Over the years, state officials have organized controlled deer hunts and adopted laws that permit more hunting of female deer to thin the deer population in the region.

Fairfax County has scheduled up to nine controlled deer hunts this fall. Officials said the hunts traditionally have helped keep deer off roads that surround the hunting areas.

The county also extended its deer-hunting season by nearly three months. This year, the hunting season in Fairfax will run from Sept. 20 to March 27. The season in other areas of Virginia runs from Oct. 4 to Jan. 3.

Officials in Maryland also tweaked their season, allowing hunters to hunt deer on private land on two Sundays in November in certain counties. Maryland’s deer hunting season runs from Sept. 15 to Jan. 31.

Installing road reflectors to deter deer from entering the highways or developing motion detectors to warn motorists that a deer is in the road are other methods officials are considering to control the deer.

Maryland’s State Highway Administration is working with the federal government to develop infrared and ultraviolet motion detectors that will light a traffic sign that will warn motorists that a deer is in the road.

So far, Montana is the only state testing the $300,000 device. Developers hope the price will decrease once the device is mass produced.

Motorists also can install deer whistles on their cars to frighten deer, though experts question their effectiveness.

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