As autumn days grow shorter, Iowa drivers are urged to keep a cautious eye on roadsides. In the coming weeks, whitetail deer will become more active as the ‘rut’ or breeding season approaches.

The early harvest also removes standing crops. As a result, deer are on the move to more wooded or brushy areas. And finally, with shorter day length, our peak driving times coincide with sunrise and sunset, when deer are active, traveling between food and cover.

Although deer vehicle collisions increase in the fall with the increase in deer movement, the good news is that over the last decade the rate of deer/vehicle collisions has declined significantly. The decline is a result of actions taken by the DNR to reduce Iowa’s deer population; primarily through hunters harvesting more does.

The reduction was the intent of Iowa legislators in 2003 when they instructed the DNR to reduce deer populations. Those goals have been reached in most counties and are close to being met in remaining counties.

Deer vehicle collisions are down, even though Iowans drive an estimated 4.3 billion miles more (18.6 billion/2011) than 20 years ago.

“Last year the rate of deer killed in Iowa was down from the peak years of 2004 through 2006 and is actually similar to levels reported from the mid-1980s to mid-90s,” says Tom Litchfield, forest wildlife biologist for the Iowa DNR.

“It is important to consider the number of miles driven, when looking at vehicle-deer mishaps; in particular rural miles,” emphasizes Litchfield. “Insurance industry figures often overlook the fact that most miles driven on Iowa’s highways are in rural areas where most deer live.”

Drivers can reduce the chance of hitting a deer by remaining alert for deer crossing the road and by scanning road shoulders, especially near creeks and wooded areas.

Reducing speed slightly will also increase the amount of time the driver has to react if a deer appears on or near the road. This is especially important around dawn and dusk, when deer are more active.

In the unfortunate event that a collision cannot be avoided—it is usually safer to slow down as much as possible and hit the deer, than to veer into oncoming traffic or leave the roadway.

Logo courtesy Iowa Department of Natural Resources

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