PEAKING, ALLIANCE WARNS
The most hazardous interactions of the year between area deer and motorists are apt to occur in drive time, after dark, on the Merritt Parkway in November. That’s when the deer mating season peaks and deer are moving around more, distracted from normal habits. However, many deer-vehicle collisions do occur throughout the year. The second most dangerous time is around June, when new fawns are often seen following their does everywhere, including across roadways.
In just the past five years, 3,186 deer have been found killed on Fairfield County roads and reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection. This is 23% of the state total of 14,017. However, the DEP’s deer expert, Howard Kilpatrick, estimates that represents only about one-sixth of the actual total roadkills. Thousands more are reported to the Dept. of Transportation instead. Then, too, many fatally injured deer disappear into the woods uncounted. Beyond that, serious accidents occur when motorists swerve, miss the deer entirely, and crash.
Rob Martin, owner of Westport Autocraft, said, “In just the last three weeks of October, five cars came in for repairs after deer-vehicle collisions. The July Reader’s Digest said,
Deer-related accidents cost Americans $1.1 billion” in quoting the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Associated Press reports about 150 people die in more than 1.5 million annual deer collisions. Over 13,500 people are injured.
This is one of a series of messages compiled in the interest of public safety and environmental protection by the 13-town Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance. Fairfield County, being the most over-populated by deer in the state, registers 23% of the state’s 5-year total roadkills. The DEP’s Zone 11, which includes all but the most northern tip of Fairfield County, registered 1.69 roadkills per square mile in 2003, while the next most dangerous Zone posted just 1.25. (See 5-year table by town.)
Participation by towns varies widely, producing uneven counts. Over the five years, Greenwich reported 292 deer roadkills and Ridgefield reported 529 while Stamford reported just 50 and Norwalk 52. Stamford and Norwalk police departments say they do not track deer-vehicle accidents, leaving most reporting to state police. They, however, are just responsible for state roads, such as the Merritt Parkway.
Further, since Westport disallows hunting, unfortunately for that community, however, roadkills remain the only viable brake on deer herd expansion there. This is because the town outlawed hunting many years before the loss of predators plus state hunting restrictions allowed the deer population to boom exponentially. It’s very widely understood now that hunting remains the only viable defense against rising deer problems such as road accidents.
Meanwhile surveys in Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, and Wilton show very serious public concern, and legal hunting programs have been successfully activated there. In New Canaan’s definitive study conducted by UCONN, over 80% of the phone respondents said that they were concerned “about the possibility of hitting a deer with a motor vehicle in New Canaan.” Sixty percent said they supported hunting as a means of reducing the deer population in season, while 33% opposed this. Other surveys reveal similarly strong support for hunting.
No pooled sources of human loss through deer collisions are found, but an insurance industry funded report last year said that about 150 people die each year in collisions with deer. The Alliance does find occasional local news items, such as a motorcyclist killed on Route 6 in the springtime, and a Stamford woman who’s SUV rolled over when she swerved to avoid a deer. A Norwalk report gave details of a skid on a wet road, mentioning that the accident was triggered by a deer. The passenger was killed. Howard Kilpatrick says, “Fairfield County has more deer, more cars, and more fragmented roadways. That all provides greater risk.”
The costs of repairs are enormous, inflating area insurance premiums. Bill Elam, owner of Darien Auto Body, said that the Audi coming in the next day for repairs from a deer collision would run a common $3,000 to $4,000. Joel Tobias of Girard Motors in Groton reported, “In the average front-end collision, a deer causes $4,500 to $7,500 worth of repairs.” Crashes through a windshield can be especially hazardous, and total annual U.S. costs run over $1.1 billion.
Contending with this problem in addition to other serious problems caused by overabundant deer, our pressed communities have only volunteer hunters, land owners and town committees, some with modest town financial support. Note too, that Princeton, NJ began paying about $150,000 to professionals yearly to cull local herds when road conditions became extremely hazardous. The Fairfield deer Alliance continues efforts to broaden public understanding, and to support legal hunting in the interest of public safety and ecological balance.
CONTACT: Kent Haydock, Chair, Alliance Public Education Committee at 655-7371