Deer collisions major hazard for motorists

Sunday, November 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Hazards on four hooves, deer cause hundreds of collisions on Oklahoma roads each year, according to highway safety statistics.

Two people were killed last year in collisions with deer, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office said. In 2001, the latest year for which statewide statistics are available, there were 555 wrecks involving deer.

The collisions result in the payment of millions of dollars in claims by Oklahoma insurance companies to motorists whose vehicles are damaged.

During the first 10 months of the year, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau paid $1.7 million in claims involving collisions with deer, said Dave Perkins, vice president of actuarial and product development.

Ed Wheeler, claims manager for Oklahoma Farmers Union, said each collision costs from $1,500 to $1,750 to repair.

"I would say we've had somewhere between 500 and 750 deer collisions in the past year," Wheeler said.

Oklahoma's deer hunting season opens Saturday for 16 days -- the first 16-day gun season for deer since 1970.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife supported expanding the season from 9 to 16 days to create more opportunities for hunters to thin the state's herd, which is estimated at almost 500,000 deer.

But hunting season will start too late for Jeffrey Macha and other motorists who have watched helplessly as deer appeared out of nowhere in their headlights.

Macha, a college student from Oklahoma City, has had three collisions with deer in the past two years. Damage to his vehicles has totaled $17,800.

Macha, who works at the Washita National Wildlife Refuge, has become wary when he drives through wooded areas.

"I try not to travel at night," Macha said.

Lt. Brandon Kopepasah of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said collisions with deer can occur anywhere but are more common in wooded areas in eastern and northwestern Oklahoma.

"I can speak from personal experience. I was involved in an accident with a deer," Kopepasah said. "It's always at dusk or dawn or nighttime when they're out."

In this case, a deer just "popped up instantaneously," he said.

"Deer whistles" and other devices are available to protect drivers, but their effectiveness is not clear.