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Earth Sense: Deer one of main reasons for traffic injuries and fatalities
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It’s a beautiful fall day. Around 6 p.m., I’m riding the motorcycle down a quiet country road at a leisurely 35 mph. Out of the woods comes a full-grown buck with large antlers at full gallop.

Instead of veering into my path, as deer often do, he runs alongside the bike with a wide-eyed expression on his face. We look at each other, each thinking “What the ...?” And while I’m downshifting to speed away, he takes a sharp right turn and dashes back into the forest.

This episode a few years ago was more comical than threatening. Nevertheless, deer are one of the prime reasons for traffic injuries and fatalities.

Not far from here, Monticello has been named the “Deer Capital” of our state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in an accident study that each year an estimated 200 human deaths result from crashes involving animals. Of 26,647 nonfatal crashes in 2001-2002, deer in the roadway were the predominant factor. Last May, North Forsyth High School senior Trenton Basden tragically lost his life in Cumming when a deer crashed through his windshield.

Daylight is getting significantly shorter now, and October starts the mating season of these animals. This has the males looking for mates, increasing deer traffic and bringing them to roadways. They are most active at dawn and dusk. The twilight period, when many people are on their way home after a long day at work, is therefore the riskiest time for an encounter with large wildlife.

Experienced motorcyclists, in particular, know to watch the edge of the forest on country roads and be prepared for unpredictable behavior of deer. They may stand calmly on the side of the highway, only to suddenly dash right into the vehicle’s path. Car drivers and motorcyclists alike have at times tried to avoid collisions by making a sharp turn, which brings the much greater risk of collision with another vehicle, a power pole or other stationary object. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources recommends against trying to swerve around and instead reducing speed as much as possible.

The dry summer we’ve had is an additional factor. Deer look for green food, which they often find at the edge of the road. Given these facts, the odds of a deer collision are increasing right about now.

 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.