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In a rut
Motorists should be extra vigilant for deer
new deh deer rut photo web
Two deer bound across a Barton County pasture. During the rutting season (fall through winter) deer are more active and drivers need to be extra cautious. - photo by PHOTO COURTESY DAN WITT

Driving during the rut

The following defensive driving techniques could ensure your safety this fall and winter:

• Stay alert, pay more attention to the road and roadside, and intentionally look for deer. Be especially alert at dawn and dusk, the peak movement times for deer and when visibility is low.

• Slow down at deer-crossing signs, which are posted where deer-vehicle collisions have repeatedly occurred, and near woods, parks, golf courses, and streams or creeks. At a reduced speed, you have a better chance of avoiding a deer.

• Deer usually travel in groups. When one deer crosses the road, there may be others about to cross. Slow down and watch for others to dart into the road.

• Slow down when approaching deer standing near roadsides. They have a tendency to bolt, possibly onto the roadway. Use emergency flashers to warn oncoming drivers after you see deer near a roadway.

• If you do hit a deer and are uncertain whether the animal is dead, keep your distance. You might be dealing with an injured, wild animal with sharp hooves.

• If the deer is blocking the roadway and poses a danger to other motorists, you should immediately report the incident to the local law enforcement agency.

• Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road.

• Do not rely exclusively on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. 

• When driving at night, use high-beam headlights when there is no opposing traffic. The high beams will illuminate the eyes of deer on or near a roadway.

• Always wear your seat belt. Statistics show that most people injured or killed in deer-related collisions were not wearing seat belts.

• Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. The most serious crashes occur when drivers lose control of their vehicles trying to avoid an animal. Do not take unsafe evasive actions. It is usually safer to strike the deer than another object such as a tree or another vehicle.

• Motorcyclists need to be especially careful; fatality rates are higher in deer-motorcycle accidents than in deer-car crashes.

• If you hit a deer, pull over onto the shoulder, turn on your emergency flashers, and watch for traffic before exiting your vehicle. Do not try to remove a deer from the roadway unless you are sure it is dead; an injured deer could hurt you. If you have a cellular phone, dial *47 (*HP) for the nearest Highway Patrol dispatcher or *KTA for assistance on the Kansas Turnpike.

 There is a lot said about distracted driving. How about some distracted deer?

With the rutting season upon us, deer activity on and near Kansas’ roadways poses a seasonal traffic hazard, state a local law enforcement agencies are reporting. 

Because deer-breeding season runs from October and into December, officers routinely investigate a large number of vehicle-deer crashes this time of year. The Kansas Highway Patrol advises all motorists to be aware of this potential danger and to use extra caution. 

Locally, there has been a lot of deer activity, but no increase in accidents yet, Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said. “It usually happens in late October or early November.”

A September 2016 report from State Farm Insurance says that Kansas has the 18th-highest frequency in deer-vehicle mishaps in the United States. The chance of a driver having a vehicle collision with a deer in Kansas this fall is one in 125. Those statistics remain unchanged from 2015, according to State Farm.  

The Kansas Department of Transportation 2015 preliminary deer crash report shows 9,980 total crashes (16 percent of all crashes), with 527 injuries and eight deaths. In Barton County, there were 189 deer v. car crashes in 2015.  

Although crashes involving deer occur throughout the year in every Kansas county, the highest number of crashes typically occur where there are the most vehicles. Sedgwick County had 374 deer-vehicle crashes in 2015, the most of any county, while Butler County followed with 356 deer-vehicle crashes.

Other factors

In addition to the rut, deer are also on the move in mid-fall seeking new food sources and shelter as crops are harvested and leaves fall from trees and shrubs, leaving them less secure than in their summer habitats. Summer rains have added a new wrinkle, too. 

“We have just experienced a summer rainfall pattern that has produced excellent growth of deer habitat,” said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism biologist Lloyd Fox. “Unlike the years of drought, we should expect more fawns this fall. Young animals of all species are prone to making mistakes. That includes mistakes crossing roads. Be extra careful.” 

What do you do?

“The reality of driving on Kansas roads and highways this time of year is the possible encounter with a deer,” Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said. 

Anyone involved in a vehicle-deer crash that results in personal injury or property damage that totals $1,000 or more is required to immediately report the crash to the nearest law enforcement agency, the KHP notes. Failure to report any traffic crash is a misdemeanor and may result in suspension of driving privileges.

When an accident occurs, a motorist should contact their insurance agent or company quickly to begin the claims process (deer accidents are usually covered under a person’s comprehensive coverage, not collision coverage), Selzer said. Kansas motorists should check with their insurance agents to find out the type of vehicle accident damage coverage their policies have, Selzer said. 

The national average cost per claim from a deer-vehicle collision actually dropped slightly for 2015-2016 from the previous reporting year, to $3,995 from $4,135 in 2014-2015. 

“If you do have a deer encounter and need some assistance with your vehicle claim, our Consumer Assistance Representatives at the Kansas Insurance Department can help,” Selzer said. Call his office at 800-432-2484, or use the online chat feature at our website,