Deer Crash Awareness Program Starts
By Dee-Ann Durbin, Associated Press

LANSING - Six people died and more than 2,800 were injured when their cars struck deer on Michigan roads last year, state officials said Thursday as they kicked off their annual deer-crash awareness campaign.

"We're not going to be able to educate the deer. Hopefully, we'll be able to educate the drivers," said Jackson County Sheriff Henry Zavialak. "This is the most dangerous wildlife encounter citizens can have in North America."

There were 67,669 vehicle-deer crashes reported in Michigan in 1999, a 8.5 percent increase from the year before. Jerry Basch, of AAA Michigan, attributed the increase to more traffic, a larger deer herds and development into deer habitats.

Department of Natural Resources wildlife chief Rebecca Humphries said the state now has an estimated 1.9 million deer. She said officials are hoping hunters will kill around 500,000 deer this hunting season, and that the herd size will drop to 1.5 million by 2005.

"We have the largest hunting effort of any state in the nation," she said.

But AAA and state officals also stressed that there are steps drivers can take to avoid deer. Dr. Tom Reel, executive director of the Traffic Safety Association of Michigan, said drivers should slow down, avoid distractions such as cell phones and be particualarly careful at night. About 80 percent of all deer crashes happen on two lane roads between dusk and dawn.

Reed also said that if a crash looks unavoidable, drivers shouldn't swerve to avoid the deer because that puts them at risk for rollover accidents and other dangers.

"If the deer is there and you can't avoid him, I guess the best thing to do is take the hit," he said.

Basch asid vehicle-deer crashes cost an estimated $100 million in damages to vehicles alone. The average estimated insurance claim for a crash is $2,000, he said.

Basch said publicity about deer crashes is the state's best hope to curb the problem. The Michigan Deer Crash Coalition, made up of AAA, the state Department of Transportation, the Michigan Sheriffs Association and several other Insurance, police and business groups, holds awareness events every fall.

Some counties, including Kent, have experimented with car reflector systems that are supposed to repel deer. But the reflectors don't seem to make a big difference, Basch said.

In Michigan last year, deer crashes accounted for more than half of all crashes in 26 counties. Statewide this year, deer crashes made up about 16 percent of all crashes.




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