By Priscilla Petersen
They’d hunted him to no avail. I spotted him along the US-400 shoulder late one November afternoon —and congratulated myself that we motorists slowed down in both directions, giving him a chance to bound up over the rocky outcropping and disappear.
He reappeared on the same highway one misty morning in mid-December. It was then that I achieved what the hunters had not: I bagged that buck, not with a rifle or arrow, but with the front end of my car. My weekday commute has never been the same.
Was I a little bit groggy as I sipped coffee and listened to NPR? Did the light rain provide the deer cover or was I just distracted? Whatever the case, I didn’t see the deer until he leapt in front of the car and arched off the hood. I pulled my heavily damaged vehicle over to the shoulder alongside the newly dead buck, made some calls, and hitched a ride back to town.
Severely shaken, I nevertheless walked away. Several days later, near the location of my collision, a deer once again bolted onto the highway. A two-vehicle accident ensued that took a human life.
According to KDOT statistics, in Kansas last year there were 9,371 deer-vehicle collisions with six deaths and 318 injuries. Also in 2008, 47 deer-motorcycle accidents resulted in four deaths and 46 injuries. November through January is the mating season and peak time for vehicle-deer accidents, but I have seen deer along Kansas highways each month of the year.
Now I always try to remain extra alert for deer, my gaze sweeping from side to side of the highway. Remember, if you see one deer slow down —there may be more in tow. If you spy a deer in the roadway pull over to the shoulder and wait until the animal is gone.
Be extra vigilant at dawn and dusk. Use high beams at night in areas where there is no oncoming traffic, and watch for deer eyes. Don’t swerve to avoid a collision with a deer, as you could lose control of your vehicle and be involved in an even more serious accident. Wear your seat belt at all times.
Since bagging my buck I’ve managed to remain a deer-free driver. Still, it doesn’t guarantee that I’ll never have another encounter... or two or three! We all need to watch and be careful. Deer are all around us, just waiting to spring out from behind that next tree or shrub beside the highway.
Priscilla Petersen is KDOT's Public Affairs Manager in Chanute.