In a special report, the ABC11 I-Team analyzed NCDOT records from 2014-2016, as well as a recent report from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center.
"Motorists should be especially careful in the early morning and early evening hours," said David Harkey, director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. "In 2016, approximately four out of five deer-related crashes occurred between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m."
According to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, two people died in Wake County when a church van struck a deer, lost control, hit a Toyota van, and then struck an SUV head-on. The crash occurred around 5:30 p.m. in the area of Zebulon Road and Barham Siding Road near Rolesville.
Harkey added that a county-by-county comparison of the data shows that Wake County continues to have the highest number of reported deer-related crashes, with 702 in 2016. Other counties with high rates of deer crashes in 2016 include Guilford (521), Pitt (505), Duplin (439), Mecklenburg (428), Union (418), Randolph (405) and Forsyth (403)
John Shaw, the State Deer Biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, explained to the I-Team that deer are primarily active around the times of sunrise and sunset, and noted that there's a population of about one million in North Carolina.
"Wake County is a heavily developed area, so it's tough to have space for hunters to control the population," Shaw says. "Fall is mating season for deer, but they're out there in spring too. There's a high-density herd that everyone needs to be aware of."
Indeed, the NCDOT reports more than 21 percent of all animal-related crashes occurred in November between 2014 and 2016, with high percentages as well in both October and December; the lowest percentages of crashes occurred in June and July, which indicates a clear distinction between days with limited sunlight in the winter and prolonged sunlight in the summer.
The UNC Highway Safety Research Center offers the following tips for lowering the risk of a crash with a deer:
- Always wear a seatbelt. Proper restraint offers the best protection from injuries in the event of a crash.
- Slow down. Drivers should reduce speed in areas with large deer populations, such as wooded or farmland areas, and particularly where deer warning signs are posted.
- Watch for eyes reflecting from headlights. Try to look far down the road and scan the roadsides, especially when driving through field edges, heavily wooded areas or posted deer crossing areas. The sooner you see a deer on or approaching a road, the better the chances of avoiding a crash. Using high beam headlights at night when there is no approaching traffic will make it easier to spot deer.
- Remember that deer travel in herds. If one deer crosses the road in front of you, don't assume that all is clear. Deer herds can be large, and the animals often move one right behind the other.
- Avoid relying on "deer whistles" or other "ultra-sonic" devices that claim to prevent deer collisions.
- Maintain control of your vehicle. It is important to not lose control of your vehicle or veer into the path of an oncoming vehicle to avoid contact with an animal. Loss of control usually results in a more serious crash. It is safer to hit the deer while maintaining control than hitting another vehicle.
A spokesman for the Highway Patrol reiterated the last point to ABC11, reminding drivers that hitting a deer head-on is actually the preferred action to swerving out of the way and risking moving into oncoming traffic or colliding with another vehicle in an adjacent lane.