Use Caution on Iowa's Roadways - Deer are on the Move
A deer-vehicle collision can happen at any time in Iowa and it is important for motorists to remain alert for deer, livestock, other wildlife, and obstacles that can pose a hazard while driving. With fall well under way, it is a time for drivers to exercise even more caution as many deer-vehicle collisions occur in the fall months during the white-tailed deer's breeding season or "rut."
By the latter part of October, bucks become more active with the approaching rut, increasing their activity and travels in search of does ready to breed. The animal's attention is on other things and their vigilance when crossing a road is decreased. In addition to this the bucks are often crossing roads in areas they are not familiar with or in places they would usually not cross.
As the rut progresses, and does begin to come into breeding condition, it is normal for them to be chased for a period of time by one or more bucks. This creates a situation with multiple, fast-moving, deer crossing highways that are often oblivious to traffic. Typically, the month of November has the highest occurrence of deer-vehicle collisions.
In order to help avoid collisions with deer during late October and November, drivers should use extra care while driving. Deer may be moving at any time of the day or night and crossing roads at unexpected places. Drivers should be constantly scanning the roadside ditches for deer approaching the highway and understand that their actions will be more unpredictable than usual. If the driver can spot the deer before it enters the roadway their chances for avoiding a collision are greatly increased.
When driving at night, it is recommended that drivers do not use cruise control as the vehicle remains under full power until the brake or clutch pedal is depressed and this can mean the difference between avoiding a collision and having one. Driving slower at night also provides an extra margin of safety. If you have another vehicle in front of you, utilize their headlights to help you scan the roadsides that are beyond the reach of the lights on your vehicle.
Traveling at prudent speeds at night cannot be overemphasized as it is easy to overdrive your headlights and there are many other highway obstacles besides deer. The average stopping distance for a vehicle traveling 60 mph is about 300 feet including reaction time. The illumination distance of high beam headlights is about the same distance. However, most drivers do not concentrate on the roadway 300 feet ahead of their vehicle, especially at night and objects smaller than another vehicle are easily overlooked at these distances. Low beam headlights are not made for speeds of more than 40 mph. When driving in areas where forested or brushy habitats are adjacent to highways and where these habitats intersect highways in depressions or ridgelines, one should remain alert for deer approaching the roadway. At dawn, dusk, and at night it is prudent not to drive faster than 50-55 mph in these specific areas at the very least. If a deer is sighted, switching headlights to low beam can often "unfreeze" a deer and encourage it to move off the roadway. Avoid passing in posted deer crossing areas if possible.
Although the risk of hitting a deer increases in the fall, this risk can be minimized by remaining alert and driving defensively. Of course, there are situations were a collision cannot be avoided and it is important to remember that it is usually safer to hit the animal than to leave the roadway or to swerve into oncoming traffic.
The number of road-killed deer reported by the Department of Transportation along with officer reports of salvaged road-kills was down by 8 percent in 2007 from the previous year. Statewide deer populations are declining. Regionally, portions of central and west central Iowa (about 15 counties) still need greater deer harvests to put those populations into a decline. The Iowa DNR has population goals and hunting seasons over much of Iowa that are intended to significantly lower current deer densities. Achievement of these goals should result in a lower rate of deer-vehicle collisions for Iowa as a whole. However, even when the population goals are achieved, there will still be pockets throughout the state with higher densities of deer where deer hunting is not allowed or where the antlerless harvest on certain properties is deficient.
Source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources
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