Deer hormones are rising, temperatures are falling, and your chance of crashing into a deer is climbing in the Carolinas this time of year.
Law enforcement officers had to deal with at least a half-dozen vehicle-deer collisions in a two-hour period Tuesday morning around Charlotte, including two incidents in Mecklenburg County.
“We get a ton of deer claims – especially in this area and especially at this time of year,” said Chris Spivey of the Spivey Insurance Group in Indian Trail.
If there is a “season” for deer-vehicle crashes, this is it. And in this part of the Carolinas, the area around Charlotte – Mecklenburg and Union counties in North Carolina, and Lancaster and York counties in South Carolina – is the most likely place for such encounters.
Experts say the animals are in their mating season, called a “rut,” during October and November. That sends deer on the move, especially in the hours immediately before and after sunset.
If you crash into a deer, you have a lot of company. The N.C. Department of Transportation said there were 20,308 animal-related crashes in 2013. About 90 percent of those involved deer, and the crashes killed 18 people and injured more than 3,400. The S.C. Department of Public Safety reported 2,200 deer-vehicle collisions last year, with most of those in the north and northwest part of the state.
A 51-year-old motorist, Ivy Stringfellow, was killed early Sunday when her car struck a deer on Interstate 77 in York County, about 2 miles south of the state line. Stringfellow’s vehicle slammed into the median after hitting the deer shortly before 5 a.m.
Carolinas’ deer crash numbers are much smaller than the 40,000 to 50,000 annual collisions recorded in Northern states. But the numbers are still high.
“What makes these encounters with deer so dangerous is that people get seriously hurt trying to avoid hitting the animals,” Spivey said. “They get involved in crashes while trying to miss the deer.”
Where the deer cross
A recent study by State Farm Insurance showed that the highest number of deer-vehicle crashes – 18 percent – happen nationally in November. South Carolina wildlife officials said their studies show about 45 percent of the collisions take place during the October-November mating season.
“Drivers need to be careful on the roads all the time, but even more so over the next few months,” said Kevin Lacy, director of mobility and safety for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The most active times of day for deer are 5 to 8 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Many motorists have little or no warning that a deer is about to cross a road.
Charles Ruth, deer-turkey program coordinator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said motorists driving in rural areas should “pay attention to changes in habitat types along the highway.”
“The zone between habitat types is a likely place for deer to cross a road,” he said. “Creek bottoms and where agricultural fields meet woodlands are also prime areas for deer to cross roadways.”
But the deer have become an urban problem. Two years ago, a deer ran onto the John Belk Freeway in Charlotte’s uptown during the morning rush hour. The N.C. Highway Patrol routinely is called to deal with deer-vehicle collisions on the corridor of Interstate 485 between University City Boulevard and Rea Road.
Tough advice: Don’t swerve
In North Carolina, the largest number of deer-vehicle collisions in 2013 was in Wake County, one of the state’s most urbanized locations. In the southern Piedmont, Mecklenburg (ninth in the state) and Union (11th) had the largest number of crashes involving animals. South Carolina experts say the corridor of Chesterfield, Lancaster, York, Chester and Cherokee counties is a hot spot for vehicle-deer crashes.
Should a deer wander into your path on the road, experts advise you not to swerve.
“I know this sounds awful, but you’re better off hitting the deer,” Spivey said. “You can kill yourself by trying to avoid the animal. You can go off the road and hit a tree or overturn. Just go ahead and hit it.”