Deer in the Headlights: What To Do
White-tailed deer are one of the most beautiful examples of wildlife remaining in Fairfax County. However, they are also one of the most troublesome. You may have had a run-in, or heard from neighbors about their experience, with a deer on the road or in the garden. This time of year, drivers need to be particularly alert.
Road incidents are becoming more frequent as the deer herd increases in number. While Fairfax County has lost much of its woodlands and open spaces to development, there are more deer here today than in the early 1900s. Experts attribute this growth to deers’ ability to adapt to urban environments and feed on ornamental plants and lawns, their high reproductive rate, the absence of predators and restrictions on hunting in populated areas.
Fall is a particularly active time for deer and conse-quently a dangerous time for drivers. By the middle of September most of the male deer you see will have fine polished antlers. This is a prelude to the onset of the annual rut period, October to December, when bucks lose their normally cautious nature as they search for does.
The deers’ lack of attention is generally not a problem for them in Fairfax County until it comes to crossing a road. During 1998 there were between 4,000 and 5,000 deer-vehicle collisions in the county. Two motorists were killed in the last three years, and many others have been injured. Over 1,000 deer have been killed, and vehicle damage has averaged $1,982 per vehicle.
The white-tailed deer gestation period is approxi-mately 6 1 /2 months. This leads to another time period when deer are paying less attention to surround-ings. During the birthing period, beginning in late March, drivers need to be very alert to deer on the roadways.
Driving tips that will help you avoid colliding with a deer:
- Slow down, anticipate deer when driving through wooded and densely veg-etated areas.
- Watch for deer crossing at locations where you have seen them before.
- If one deer runs across the road, slow down and look for others (deer seldom run alone).
- Be especially cautious at dusk through the early evening hours and in the hours prior to sunrise when deer are most active.
- If you encounter deer on the roadways, flash your head-lights at the deer and blow the horn to scare them away.
- If you hit a deer, don’t touch it. If it’s alive, it may be dan-gerous. Call the police.
- Keep your eyes moving; don’t just focus on the middle of the road.
- A deer is visible less than 200 feet from your vehicle; it takes a car about 317 feet to stop at 55 MPH under opti-mum conditions.
- Buckle your safety belts. Most people seriously injured in deer crashes are not buck-led up.
More information on white-tailed deer and on the Fairfax County Deer Management Plan is available at county parks and recreation centers and on the web.