AUGUSTA, Maine — State officials say that a rebounding population of white-tailed deer in the last couple of years has led to a recent uptick in car-deer crashes.
November is the month when deer are most on the move because it’s their mating season, with the third week the “peak week” for deer activity, Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Friday.
“These late-autumn months are top of the line for car-deer crashes,” he said. “It is a driver awareness thing. Animal crashes are certainly more prevalent anytime between dusk and dawn. You really need to pay attention and slow down.”
Car-deer collisions had dropped from 3,300 a year in Maine a decade ago to 2,600 or so in the years 2010 and 2011, according to Duane Brunell of the Maine Department of Transportation’s safety office. But with more than a month to go in 2013, the crash data reported to the state shows that there already have been 2,616 car-deer collisions.
Over the last decade, about one fifth of car-deer crashes in the state took place in the month of November, with the next highest incident rates occurring in October and December. Nearly half of all car-deer crashes occur in those three months. Altogether, between 2003 and 2013, there have been 16,653 car-deer crashes in the state.
“I think it will continue to reflect a bounce-back of the health of the herd,” said Brunell. “With more deer out there, there’s more potential for car-deer crashes.”
He said drivers should slow down, especially at night.
According to Latti, two “very harsh winters” in 2008 and 2009 took a toll on the deer population across the state. But milder winter weather in the past few years has helped deer survivability, with about 200,000 deer estimated to be living in the state.
“We’re at the northern edge of white-tailed deer range, here in Maine,” Latti said. “When we get harsher winters, it can really impact the deer population, because we’re right on the edge.”
The Maine DOT encourages drivers to be especially alert at night, while driving through forested or rural areas and when they see one deer, which is likely to be followed by others. If a crash is unavoidable, drivers should brake, then let up on the brake just before impact. They should aim to hit the tail end of the animal and, if possible, duck to minimize injury in case the deer strike the windshield.
Meanwhile, police in Waldo County, where officers have responded to 43 car-deer accidents in the last 30 days, are warning drivers to be aware of the increasing risk of hitting deer.
“If they see one deer, they’re almost assured there’s going to be another one coming,” Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton said Thursday. “If one crosses just in front of you, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.”