The Barton County Sheriff’s Office, along with several other Kansas agencies, are working together this fall to raise awareness and help local drivers avoid collisions with deer, and to be aware of the dangers those collisions present.
While deer can be spotted near roadways any time of the year, motorists should be especially vigilant in the fall for deer crossing roadways due to the “rut,” or mating season – a time when deer are frequently on the move and at all hours of the day. Barton County Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Steve Billinger said deer populations are more highly concentrated this time of year with less cover available in freshly harvested agricultural fields.
In rural Barton County, around one out of every three of crashes reported is a deer-vehicle collision, said Billinger. And though less common, he said, deer can even make their way into the city of Great Bend, causing crashes in town, as well.
Billinger said in Barton County and surrounding areas the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions is late in the fall, between now and Dec. 1.
The highest risk areas in Barton County are rural areas near creeks and rivers. Some particular danger areas where they see higher frequencies of crashes were east of Great Bend on U.S. 56 near Fort Zarah, K-156 northeast of Great Bend near Cheyenne Bottoms, U.S. 281 between Hoisington and Great Bend near the Kansas Brick plant, and K-4 between Hoisington and Clafin. He stressed, though, they can happen anywhere.
Eight people were killed and 556 people were injured in deer-vehicle crashes on Kansas roadways in 2019. Billinger said although fatalities are rare with deer-vehicle collisions, it is certainly a danger motorists need to be aware of. He added the collisions are particularly dangerous to motorcyclists without the external protection of a vehicle frame.
“That’s a catastrophic impact with deer and a motorcycle,” Billinger said. “It is something that all motorcyclists need to be aware of.”
Billinger said drivers always need to remain vigilant, and suggested ways drivers can protect themselves:
• Be especially watchful at dawn and dusk, when deer are more active. Billinger said drivers should always scan 20-30 seconds down the road allow themselves time to react. If possible, he said, avoid travel in rural areas during those peak times.
• Use high beams whenever possible, when there is no oncoming traffic. This will not only allow for farther visibility, Billinger said, but the beams can actually provide a reflective glow from the eyes of wildlife on the sides of the road.
• If you see one deer, expect others, he said, as they seldom travel alone.
• He also advised drivers to reduce their speed, especially at peak times near dawn and dusk. “That extra speed (reduction) makes a big difference in being able to react and slow your vehicle to avoid a deer strike,” Billinger said.
• The biggest prevention tool drivers have, though, is always drive attentively. Distracted driving, he said, is a leading cause of any type of motor vehicle crash, and attentive driving can help motorists avoid a collision with a deer.
• If you see a deer, honk your horn with one long blast. A long blast on your horn may frighten large animals, such as deer, away from your vehicle. The Insurance Information Institute advises against relying on devices such as deer whistles and reflectors, which have not been proven to reduce collisions with animals.
“If you are unfortunate enough to have a deer enter the highway in front of your car, it is best to hit the animal and not swerve to avoid it,” said KHP Lieutenant Candice Breshears.
Billinger said swerving to avoid a deer can often lead to more severe rollover crashes.
If you do strike the deer, he said, it is crucial that the strike be reported immediately to law enforcement.
Anyone involved in a deer-vehicle crash resulting in personal injury or property damage that totals $1,000 or more is required by law to immediately report the crash to the nearest law enforcement agency. Failure to report any traffic crash is a misdemeanor and may result in suspension of driving privileges.
Along with potential injuries and property damage, Billinger said immediate reporting allows law enforcement to better determine what happened in the collision and where, which helps drivers dealing with property damage claims in the long run.
“In addition to potentially causing human injuries and loss of life, deer collisions often cause significant vehicle damage that can lead to large expenses for the vehicle owner if not properly insured,” said Shawn Steward, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Kansas. “Of the animal strikes reported by AAA insurance policy holders between 2016 and 2019, the average cost per claim was nearly $4,500.”
“(The long-term costs) can really be a heartbreaking deal,” Billinger said.
A salvage tag is required to remove a deer carcass, or any part of the carcass, from the crash site. Tags can be issued by KHP troopers, sheriff’s deputies or KDWPT game wardens.
In Barton County, individuals who want to process salvageable deer carcasses can be put on a salvage list by contacting the Barton County Communications Center on the administrative line, 620-793-1920.