While I was traveling home the other day on West Three Mile Road, I had to hit the brakes at least three times during a one-mile stretch for deer crossing my path.

It sometimes feels like the gauntlet when I go home, because of the many deer that are always jumping out in front of me.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss ways to avoid hitting a deer, what to do if you hit a deer and what happens to the deer after you hit it.

While the state's two million deer are most active in spring and fall, vehicle-deer crashes are a year-round problem. Each year, there are nearly 50,000 reported vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan. About 80 percent of these crashes occur on two-lane roads between dusk and dawn.

You are also more likely to hit a deer in the fall. Nearly half of all deer-vehicle crashes happen between October and December. A good reason for this is due to deer mating season and peak hunting days which fall between these months.

It should not come as a surprise that Michigan ranks in the top 10 of vehicle-deer crashes. These are the overall odds and likelihood of hitting a deer each year:

  • West Virginia (1 in 38)
  • Montana (1 in 48)
  • Pennsylvania (1 in 52)
  • South Dakota (1 in 54)
  • Iowa (1 in 55)
  • Wyoming (1 in 56)
  • Wisconsin (1 in 57)
  • Michigan (1 in 60)
  • Mississippi (1 in 61)
  • Minnesota (1 in 64)

So each year, 1 out of every 60 drivers in Michigan are likely to strike a deer with their car.

STEPS ON AVOIDING A CRASH

As there is no guaranteed way to ever avoid hitting a deer, here are some steps to lower the chance of this happening.

If you spot a deer, slow down, switch to low beams and scan the roadside for other shiny eyes. Do not flash your high beams or honk your horn as these could cause deer to freeze.

If a deer freezes in front of your car, hit the brakes and stay in your lane. Grab the steering wheel firmly, so you do not swerve carelessly around the animal.

If a deer jumps in front of your vehicle, don’t veer or swerve. Swerving can cause drivers to hit another vehicle, tree or other fixed object and is often more dangerous than just hitting the deer. Swerving also increases the potential of causing your vehicle to roll over.

Deer are herd animals and travel in single file. If you see one crossing the road, there is probably one or more following right behind it. So, if you see one, you should already be slowing down waiting for the next one to jump out in front of you.

Also, during the rut (mating season), a doe that crosses the road is more likely to be followed by one or more bucks.

IF IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN

If a crash is unavoidable, brake firmly, holding on to the steering wheel and bringing your car to a complete stop. When safe, pull off the road, turn on emergency flashers and be cautious while exiting your vehicle.

You should call 911, or the non-emergency dispatch number after an accident. Remember to contact the appropriate dispatch on where it occurred. If the crash happened in Baldwin, you won't be able to call Allegan County when you get home.

If an officer is available, one will be dispatched to your location. If an officer is not available and the vehicle can be safely driven, you can take it home and an officer will contact you when they are available. Remember, dispatch would need to tell you that it is OK to leave the scene or file a report later. It is not recommended, or technically legal, to leave the scene of an accident without permission.

If your vehicle is not safe to drive, then the vehicle needs to be towed. In most cases, dispatch or an officer can assist you with this.

WAITING ON SCENE

If the injured deer is still present, you should not attempt to go near it. You could be injured by an angered deer and struck by its hooves.

Be aware that even if the deer is not dead, and needs to be put down, you do not have the authority to shoot the deer. A deer that needs to be dispatched can only be done by law enforcement or when someone is directed by an officer.

Be sure to have your driver's license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration ready when the officer gets there.

POLICE REPORT

When any crash happens on a public roadway, resulting in any injury or property damage, you must contact law enforcement. If your vehicle has suffered damage, you will need an accident report for your insurance company to cover your claim.

The state also requires that a UD-10 is completed in every vehicle crash. Before you leave, the officer will provide you with a complaint number that you will turn in to your insurance company. Your insurance company will then be able to obtain a copy of the police report.

Vehicle-deer crashes are a $130 million a year problem in Michigan. The average crash results in insurance claims of $4,300.

KEEPING THE DEER

Until recent years, an officer would issue you a kill tag (or salvage permit) for you to take possession of the deer. This is no longer required. You can now leave the scene with the deer, and later obtain a kill tag online. There is no charge for this.

The driver of the vehicle has first choice to take possession of the deer. If the driver leaves it, another individual may take it for salvage and get a kill tag.

Please visit the DNR website for salvage permit information at mi.gov/DNR.

MYTHS

If you see a deer crossing sign, it’s there for a reason. Signs are installed in areas with large deer populations and where there is a history of deer crashes.

Remember the good old deer whistles that you could get at the dollar store? We all know someone who swears by them. These whistles attach to your car and are supposed to emit a shrill that alerts deer of your presence and send them running away. No credible study has proven them to be effective. Studies have shown that no matter how loud or high-pitched the whistle, the sound isn’t enough to alter the deer’s behavior.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.

As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.