Data: Number of car-deer crashes rose in 2017

A deer is pictured in this undated photo. According to data made available by Michigan State Police, the number of car-deer crashes statewide rose from 2016 to ’17. (Courtesy photo)

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA, LAKE COUNTIES — With the start of deer archery season Oct. 1, many hunters in Michigan hope to bag a big doe or buck. Meanwhile, drivers hope to avoid hitting one.

The number of car-deer vehicle crashes went up by 15 percent in Lake County from 2016 to ’17, according to the most recent available data from the Michigan State Police. The figure also was higher in Osceola County, which saw a 13-percent jump during the same time period, while Mecosta County saw a 4-percent drop. In total, there were 276 car-deer vehicle crashes in Lake County in 2017, 718 in Osceola County and 902 in Mecosta County, MSP data shows.

Justin Halladay, the undersheriff of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, said most of the crashes likely took place in the final three months of the year, coinciding with hunting season. In order to avoid a costly collision, he cautioned, drivers should be extra-careful.

“We have car-deer crashes all year round, but with fall and deer hunting season here, obviously, herds are moving around. That heightens the chances that a car-deer accident occurs,” Halladay said. “One time, when I was working the road, I handled 14 of them in an 8-hour period, from 4 p.m. to midnight. It’s just something that happens every year — thankfully, people don’t often get hurt when it happens.”

At M&M Collision Shop in Big Rapids, car-deer crash season is always the busiest time of the year, said company president Michael Kondziolka. On Monday alone, 14 people came in — a near-record high, he said. Drivers come into the shop with myriad issues, from bent fenders to smashed windshields.

Kondziolka suggested while drivers may cry over a large bill to repair their rides, they would be well-advised to remember one truism often repeated after a crash.

“As long as you’ve got your health, you’re alright,” he said. “People’s bodies are harder and more expensive to repair than a car.”

In 2017, in Mecosta County, 526 of the car-deer crashes took place on local streets, while 250 took place on state highways and 126 happened on U.S. highways. In Osceola County, there were 380 crashes on local streets, 227 on U.S. highways and 111 on state highways. In Lake County, 160 were on local streets, 60 on U.S. highways and 56 on state highways.

The way police interpret that statistic: Always be careful, no matter where you are.

“Everywhere from Lake County to Clare County to Mecosta to Wexford, I don’t think there is one that has more than another. This is one of the busiest areas in the state for deer,” Halladay said. “We’ve had car-deer accidents on U.S. 10 in Evart and in villages, as well as the highway. Deer don’t know boundaries.”

Halladay suggested the following tips for drivers:

• Always be cognizant and aware of your surroundings. Look beyond the beam of your headlight when driving, scanning the sides of the roads in addition to what is right in front of you. “I’ve hit nine or 10 deer in my lifetime, and it was never a deer I saw in the road. It was one that came rushing out of the bush,” Halladay said.

• Do not veer for deer. “You often find yourself swerving and losing control of your vehicle, hitting another vehicle or rolling over. That causes a lot more damage than hitting a deer,” Halladay said.

• Be aware of where deer are and how they travel. Road signs cautioning that deer are nearby may not tell the whole story, but Halladay said they do help. He also advised deer travel in herds, so if you see one, watch out for others.

• If you do hit a deer, call 911. A police officer will be dispatched to your location. If you are able to drive your car home, you can still call police and receive a report, for insurance purposes.

In Michigan in 2017, there were 50,949 car-deer crashes total. That figure is up 8 percent from 2016, when there were 46,870 crashes.

Michigan’s second-highest populated county, Oakland, had the highest number of car-deer crashes in 2017, with 1,765, while the lowest-populated county, Keweenaw, had the fewest, with 40.

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