WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Shortened days, slippery downed leaves and tree limbs, and increased holiday road congestion are enough to make drivers jumpy through December. But add to these inconveniences deer-mating season, or rutting, and it's a trifecta of dangerous driving conditions.
During deer-rutting season, bucks are actively pursuing does. "During the rut, deer are definitely 'on the move' more than usual," said Laura a field director for urban wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States. The rut, she said, also coincides with hunting season, which means deer are fleeing hunters as well.
White-tailed deer, members of the Cervidae family that calls Westchester County home, have adapted well to suburban life, which accounts for an uptick in their population, estimated by experts to be 30 million throughout the country.
Mating season, said Simon, means that those "Watch for Deer" road signs aren't only applicable at dusk and dawn. Additionally, she said, deer are herd animals. "If you see one near the side of the road, it's likely that animal isn't traveling alone."
While deer-related crashes are catastrophic for the animals, they are also costly to automobile owners. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that 1.6 million deer-motor vehicle crashes occur each year nationally. Such collisions cause more than $3.6 billion in vehicle damage per year.
In a recent email called “Antler Alert,” the New York State Thruway Authority offered some tips for motorists:
- Deer are more active during evening, dusk and dawn.
- Scan shoulders of the roadside for deer eyes reflecting light at night.
- Using high beams and sounding your horn may help to repel deer but won’t necessarily prevent a collision.
- Slow down when approaching deer standing at the roadside, because they may run into oncoming traffic.
- Always wear your seatbelt.
- If you see a deer, brake firmly. The most serious vehicle-deer accidents occur when drivers veer at high speeds and strike another vehicle or go off the road.
- Never swerve to avoid hitting a deer. This can confuse deer and possibly cause them to go into the roadway.
Additional traveler safety tips are available on the Thruway's website.
One more animal to keep in mind on your ride home: Moose are now migrating farther and farther south, and their populations are growing, particularly in northern Westchester County. While not as plentiful on and near roadways – yet – they are equally if not more dangerous than deer, given their size. But for now, make sure to slow down for deer in love.