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How to keep deer from becoming four-legged hood ornaments this spring

There's an old driving adage. There are only two types of Canadian drivers: those who've hit a deer and those who are going to hit a deer.

I'm reminded of it each year when spring makes its sunny presence known. That time is once again upon us. The big melt is around the corner (anywhere from one to six months away depending on where you live) and that means our four-legged hoofed friends will be out in force.

What can I say about our dear deer or – as they call them up north – hood ornaments.

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They love cars, but the feeling doesn't seem to be reciprocated. November is the most precarious month since deer migrate and mate between October and December. By spring, the product of all this deer love is running wild.

They are beautiful, graceful creatures, but bright they are not. Deer seem to regard the highway with the same delight that sugar-hyped kids reserve for the "ball room" at McDonald's. They are most active at dawn and dusk, when driving conditions are the most challenging.

A study by State Farm Insurance estimated that 1.23 million deer-vehicle collisions occurred in the United States between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. These cost more than $4-billion in vehicle damage.

A few years back, science journalist Jacob Berkowitz wrote an in-depth feature on the phenomenon and reported that 60,000 Canadian drivers annually are involved in vehicle-deer collisions. Ontario led the way with 14,000 in 2008 (which the rest of the country would say proves what bad drivers Ontarians are).

White-tailed deer are particularly active around our nation's capital, where 1,000 are hit yearly. The city has started a "Speeding Can Cost You Deerly" campaign. This may be one reason so many deer are hit – they abhor puns and vehicle-deer collisions are their only way out.

Anyone who has hit a deer can describe how unnerving it is. There's blood, there's adrenalin and there's a dead deer. If the deer goes through your windshield, it can kill you.

If the driver is smart, he realizes that, aside from the danger presented by the animal itself, the greatest threat in deer-vehicle collisions lies in what happens when a motorist swerves to avoid Bambi. On a deserted highway with no oncoming traffic you're okay, but swerve to miss a deer when other drivers are around and you risk a far more potentially lethal collision – with another vehicle.

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The best you can do when the worst happens is to aim your car where the deer was and brake.

City slickers might feel they are immune from the threat of hitting a deer. In a sense, that's the problem. It's not the deer that are running into us so much as it's us running into the deer.

The incidence of collision is going up because we humans continue to build new highways and expand our urban sprawl. Deer have nowhere to go, so they take it on the road. The more we expand our civilization into their habitat, the more we're going to see episodes of "Deer Meets Car."

The onus is on us. The same techniques used to avoid other roadside calamities can be used to prevent them. Scan the road when you're driving. Be aware of deer-crossing signs. When you see a deer, slow down and remember that deer move in herds, so if you see one cute creature nibbling grass by the side of the road, there are likely more about.

Deer whistles don't work. I'm no expert but I'd argue that rolling down your windows and playing the Captain and Tennille would be more effective at warding off wildlife. There's something about the tinny nihilism of Muskrat Love that strikes fear in most of nature's creatures.

It's important for drivers to be ready for deer season because it's unlikely that the deer are ready for us.

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I'd like to believe that the deer were posting "how to avoid hitting car" articles on deer Facebook and tweeting about deer-vehicle collisions and that clever deer whom all the deer respect were writing articles about the threat of automobiles in deer newspapers, but I think, for the most part, their efforts in this department amount to "Oh, look, an acorn!"

So, this spring, slow down a little. Put yourself in their hoofs – be a deer and keep your eyes peeled. It's the least we can do.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More


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