Why you should be especially vigilant driving next month

A deer jumps over a fence along the side of a road in Stafford County. (Oct. 13, 2011)
A deer jumps over a fence along the side of a road in Stafford County. (Oct. 13, 2011) File photo

Things are about to get more dangerous for drivers in Sedgwick and Butler counties.

Most deer-vehicle collisions in Kansas happen in November, and those two counties have the highest number of accidents in the state.

Sedgwick had 374 such crashes in 2015, the most in the state. Butler County came in second, with 356 deer-related accidents. Statewide, there were 9,980 such collisions last year, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. Eight people were killed. In 2013, nine people died in deer-related accidents.

This year, biologists warn, could be worse because of an increase in the deer population.

Butler County is the largest county by area in Kansas. Sedgwick is one of the most densely populated. Both are laced with major highways. Those are bad combinations.

“The high human population, and the amount of traffic that means, is probably the biggest factor in so many (deer-vehicle) accidents,” said Mike Miller, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism information chief. “You have a lot of commuters, and then look at how many cars you have on places like Highway 54, the turnpike and Highway 400.”

Stephen La Row, a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper, said many scattered but small patches of deer habitat at the edges of so many towns probably contribute to the higher accident numbers.

Miller and La Row agree that November, especially mid-November, can be particularly problematic.

“Last year, November 13th was the big day. We had 110 crashes that day,” said La Row. “But any time in November can be bad.”

The annual breeding season, called the rut, is largely to blame. Recent increases in deer-vehicle collisions show the rut is intensifying this time of year over all of Kansas.

Bucks often pursue love at full speed. Biologists say the increased body temperature of a doe that’s being chased puts her into estrus sooner. Often the panicked doe bolts into traffic. Sometimes the trailing buck, totally focused on following the doe, gets hit. Yearling bucks, in their first rut, are more likely to wander into trouble that’s often coming at 75 mph.

Miller said fawns about 5 months old make up a sizable percentage of roadkills.

“During the rut, the doe kicks them off and they’re on their own for the first time in their life and not just following their mother,” said Miller. “You can see them just kind of wandering around, looking lost. They don’t know how to avoid danger.”

This November could be especially dangerous.

Miller said plentiful precipitation in the spring and summer has made vegetation beside roads higher and thicker than normal. Places where motorists could normally see a deer coming 40 to 50 yards away may be blocked until the deer steps into the road.

“The rainfall had a positive impact on habitat, and overall our deer are healthier because of all the food,” Miller said. “I don’t have any data, but that means more does should have had twins, and fawn survival should be quite a bit higher than when we were in the drought.”

According to KDOT information, Kansas already has had 5,421 deer-related crashes this year as of Oct. 6. There were four fatalities and 287 injuries in that time.

Lin Dehning, public information officer for the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, provided information that showed Sedgwick County has had 105 deer-vehicle collisions through Thursday afternoon. Deer-vehicle collisions can happen about anywhere in Sedgwick County.

“You do see a (concentration) right down Highway 42, but it has a lot of traffic and crossed rivers several times, where there are a lot of deer,” said Dehning. “But there’s really not one place where we have more. They’re pretty spread out all over the county. You just have to always be careful.”

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors

How to avoid an accident

▪ All-around good driving habits, like paying attention while driving and always looking down the road would prevent many deer/vehicle collisions.

▪ Motorists should keep an eye on the ditches and roadsides as they drive. At night, keep your lights on bright as much as possible.

▪ Dawn and dusk are times of high deer movement and poor visibility for drivers, so be especially careful.

▪ Don’t drop your guard just because you’re in town. Every year there are multiple deer-related crashes in Wichita, especially near parks and golf courses but also sometimes in residential areas.

▪ If you see a deer in the road, do your best to slow down but do not swerve to miss the animal. That often leads to an out-of-control vehicle and a crash that’s far more damaging and dangerous than striking the deer. Many of the state’s traffic fatalities involving deer have been caused by a vehicle swerving, then rolling.

▪ Should you hit a deer, do your best to get your vehicle off to the side of the road, then call 911. Keep your seatbelt on if you stay in your vehicle in case of a secondary crash. If you leave your vehicle move a safe distance off the road.

Sources: Kansas Department of Transportation, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Stephen La Row.