The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 30, 2013

Encounters with whitetails | Be more alert for deer when driving

JOHNSTOWN — A recent article in The Tribune-Democrat should not have been earth-shattering news for anyone who has ever been behind the wheel of a vehicle in Pennsylvania.

It cited a study by State Farm Insurance that the Keystone State is tops in the nation in the number of deer-versus-vehicle accidents in the past year. Pennsylvania drivers were involved in 120,000 run-ins with whitetails, resulting in an average insurance claim of $3,400 per accident and causing more than $400 million in damages.

Michigan, according to the study, came in a distant second, with 87,000 reported accidents.

Years ago, there were signs occasionally posted along highways imploring drivers to “give wildlife a brake.” Of course, that was when the state’s legal speed limit was 55 mph, a tad slower than today’s 65 mph. It also was before superhighways began dominating the landscape and cars did not zip along as fast as they do now and were constructed of more steel than plastic. Many of those superhighways dissect prime whitetail habitat, as do the numerous housing developments that have popped up on once-vacant properties.

Deer are accustomed to following the same routes their ancestors followed for generations, which sometimes takes them right into the paths of speeding cars and trucks, either on highways or residential roads.

With deer entering the rutting, or mating, season, more of the ruminants will find themselves on collision courses with vehicles. During this time of year, bucks intent on mating tend to throw caution to the wind when seeking out receptive does. Drivers hardly, if ever, will see a buck, or any deer for that matter, stop and look both ways before darting onto a highway. And this kamikaze attitude will continue into mid-December.

The state Department of Transportation has posted big, bright yellow signs along known areas of deer travel. The signs are intended to make drivers more aware that they are going through zones where there have been high deer-vehicle interaction. Because deer can’t read the signs, it’s up to the driv-ers to pay attention.

In a similar vein, if you find yourself driving in the north-central part of the state, PennDOT has posted two life-sized steel silhouettes of elk at its maintenance office in Ridgway, Elk County. The purpose is to warn motorists of the animal’s hulking size and to let them know they are traversing elk habitat. PennDOT officials say motorists driving through elk country apparently don’t slow down because they don’t know how big the animals actually are. Officials point out that from 2008-12, motorists have been involved in 91 accidents involving elk that have led to injury, damage to personal property and deaths.

Our point is for motorists to ease off the pressure they apply to the long, skinny pedal under their right foot, drive more cautiously and put away distractions, such as cellphones, especially when they are driving between the periods of dusk and dawn. That’s when it is more difficult to see very far down the road, and it’s also the time that deer seem to be more active.

Give wildlife a brake.

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If you or someone you know is lucky enough to harvest a deer, please send a photo along with the successful hunter’s information – such as name, address, age and where the animal was killed – to The Tribune-Democrat. We publish the photos in the newspaper and on our website. Photos can be emailed to sports@ or sent via mail to The Tribune-Democrat, 425 Locust St., P.O. Box 340, Johnstown, Pa. 15907-0340.

Good luck and good hunting.

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