The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 28, 2012

Sharing the roads with deer risky business

By Rebecca Croomes
For The News Courier

— The expression “deer in the headlights” is an understatement this time of year.

It’s deer in the front bumper, deer through the windshield or deer sticking out of the passenger side door as the woodland creatures venture across human highways and byways looking for food during the winter months.

Fourteen deer have had unfriendly meetings with cars in the Athens city limits so far this year, said Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson. Of those 14, two have been police patrol cars.

“Our numbers have been down a bit this year,” Johnson said. “I don’t think our numbers are anywhere close to where they’ve been in the past few years.”

A typical incident, Johnson said, usually begins when someone spots a deer and slows down in just enough time to miss it but hits another deer.

“Where there’s one, there’s usually more,” Johnson said.

The reason for the increase in deer-vehicle-related accidents is a mix of the season and urban development. As trees and grasses die out for the winter, deer leave their natural habitats to look for food anywhere they can find it.

Johnson said he’s had a few calls this year about deer invading front yard shrubbery.

“I guess we really made an impact on them,” Johnson said.

A deer can cause extensive damage to a car or truck. Johnson said there are several factors that affect the severity, such as size and speed of the car, but that often times older cars with less plastic fittings fair better.

“Certainly one of the biggest things we like to stress to drivers is not to swerve,” said Alabama State Farm spokesman Roszell Gadson. “… we’re very familiar with the type of damage and potential loss of life deer collisions could lead to.”

By the numbers, there has been a 7.7 percent increase over the last year of deer-related traffic collisions, up from three years ago when that number bottomed out at 2.2 percent, according to a press release from State Farm.

Melissa Marbut and her husband, David, were on their way home from Christmas shopping in Madison December 16 when a deer ran in front of their 2006 BMW 128i – the sports coup they had paid off one year early and had just received the title for three weeks ago.

Marbut said both airbags deployed, but all of the damage happened on the passenger side where the deer impacted the front fender and knocked out the headlight and crumpled the hood. The passenger side mirror was thrown backwards and the rearview mirror was broken off the windshield.

Melissa had burns on her neck from the seatbelt and she and David both were stiff and bruised, but the deer was nowhere to be found.

On her way to work this week, Marbut said she was driving on Sewell Road when she noticed some deer in the ditch.

“I just stopped the car and was like, please don’t run towards me!”