CFN – Here is the situation. Driving in to Cornwall early in the morning last week a deer jumped in front of my van and caused great damage. The total cost has been estimated at $8000 and the airbags didn’t even deploy. Fortunately my insurance company has decided to pay for the repairs. Aside from the cost, a more human part of my psyche acknowledged that I had killed a living breathing animal whose only crime was that he was in the throws of sexual desire, a very natural and normal thing for deer at this time of year. While you might call this an act of God or blame the deer for being stupid, it seems to me that it is the fault of the human population and our need to expand our cities and remove or isolate much of the deer habitat.
According to a bulletin from the Ministry of Transportation, MOT, “On average, there is a motor vehicle/wild animal collision every 38 minutes” and this is the peak season for animal car collisions. If you follow the link provided and read the entire bulletin it seems that the responsibility to avoid hitting a deer or other animals all on the driver. But, is there not something that can be done to control the number of deer on the roads?
I contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources, MNR, to find out more about the deer population and if there were any ongoing efforts to manage the deer population and keep them off the roadways. It was suggested that I contact The Eastern Ontario Deer Advisory Committee for the answers to my questions. This committee was formed back in 2009 to address the situation of plummeting deer population. According to Kerry Coleman, the chair of the committee, the purpose of the EODAC is to encourage the responsible management of deer in eastern Ontario. The membership of the committee includes hunters, farmers, former politicians, retailers, wildlife control agents, hunter safety instructors, conservation authority staff, stewardship councillors and members with ties to the naturalist community. Mr. Coleman told me that when the committee was first formed the MNR were concerned about the low deer population and although the numbers have been increasing they would still like to see higher numbers. From a hunter’s perspective, this means that a limited number of licenses are issued.
The media relations officer for the OPP related that they did not separate the types of accidents involving deer from other accidents so he could not give me any accurate statistics. Anecdotally he said that there did not seem to be any increase or decrease in the number of deer-car collisions. He did say that he would see if there were some way to isolate the information I needed and would get back to me. If he does reach me after this article is published then I will add that info as a post.
As for any methods being used to keep the deer off the roadways, all of those I had contacted only knew about the one program on Country Road 2 at the Bird Sanctuary just west of Ingleside. There are a series of reflectors on both sides of the roads which will reflect approaching car lights in a way to simulate predator’s eyes. There is no hard data to evaluate the effectiveness of the reflectors and I did get a variety of opinions on whether they work or not. There was a definite consensus that they would not work when the deer are in rutt.
The other aspect of the topic is the financial costs to both the insurance companies and the individuals whose cars collide with deer. I contacted my insurance agent, Lawrence Vanermeer of State Farm, to get an opinion on the cost of deer and car collisions and to see if there were any initiatives that insurance companies were supporting to reduce them. He referred me to The State Farm Media Relations representative, John Bordignon, who in turn directed me to a web page for the company’s position on the situation.
Basically it mirrors the Ministry of Transportation advice on avoiding accidents. The site did add that State Farm has released comprehensive data indicating deer and vehicle collisions have fallen 7 percent in the United States but do not have data on Canadian collisions. Also the average property damage cost of these incidents during the final half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 was $3,171, up 2.2 percent from the year before.
“State Farm has a long history of supporting auto safety,” said John Bordignon, State Farm Media Relations. “Calling attention to potential hazards like these is part of our commitment to help keeping our roads safer for drivers across Canada. The best way to avoid wildlife-vehicle collisions is to be aware of the season, your surroundings, heed warning signs, and through attentive driving behavior.”
Doing some basic calculation with the information that is available I managed to come up with the fallowing numbers. A rate of 1 deer-car collision every 38 minutes and an average cost of $3,171 per collision means that every day deer cause about $120,000 in damage to cars or property. That is a whopping $44 million annually in Ontario only. And you wonder why your insurance rate is so high.
So back to my question, how can we keep deer off the highways? Other than that one experiment with reflectors is there anything else being considered or is the only concern of the MNR the number of deer available for hunters. The OPP don’t keep statistics on the number of deer-car collisions and the Ministry of Transportation seem to blame bad driving habits. If it’s one thing I have learned over the years is that you can be doing everything right while you are driving and you can still get into an accident.
At an annual cost of $44 million dollars you would think there would be some kind of study going on. I know that the body repair shops are benefiting from all the repair work but let’s also consider the other costs not covered by insurance. There is the deductable ($1000 in my case), the time involved in dealing with the disposition of the damaged car, lost productivity (because you know how much you are going to get done at work if you hit a deer on the way there), and the emotional effect on the individual. I know that my eyes are constantly scanning the ditches now for deer and I am very reluctant to drive at night. I’m sure I will recover from this experience and the stress of driving during this deer mating month will abate but I would feel a lot better if I knew something was being done about the high incidence of deer-a-cide on our highways.
What do you think? If you have a deer story or a way to keep them off the highways I would like to hear from you. Just post your comments below and maybe we can come up with a solution for the MNR, EODAC and MOT.