‘Explosion’ of deer population could lead to more crashes next month

Turn on the high beams when you can and get ready to brake often, new data suggest that there are more deer out and about on roads, after more of them were spared last year.

November is always the month with the most deer strikes because it is mating season, but the Highway Loss Data Institute released new data that shows animal strikes for insured drivers were considerably down last year.

“The most recent November claim frequency that we have for animal strikes is the lowest we’ve seen in a long time. We’re not exactly certain why that is,” Senior Vice President with the Highway Loss Data Institute Matt Moore told WTOP.

It was even lower than during the initial pandemic year in 2020 when far fewer drivers were on the roads. Insurance claims on hitting animals dropped from 14.1 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years in 2019 to 12.6 claims per 1,000 insured the next year, according to data gathered by the institute.

In 2021, it rebounded to around the 10-year average, but then dropped even further to just below 12 claims per thousand in 2022, and according to other data, there were about the same amount of people on the road to the year previous.

“This is a real head-scratcher,” Moore said. “Originally, we thought we might get a big spike in November 2021, thinking more deer might have survived the 2020 season. Maybe an increase in hunting prevented that from happening. But that doesn’t explain the drop in 2022.”

He theorized that it might be related to changes in commuting patterns as people continue to work from home. Or it could just be a variation in the data.

Moore is concerned that last year’s trend could prove for a more dangerous November 2023.

“If you have fewer animals strike crashes in one year, in concept if you could hold everything else constant, that could potentially net you more crashes the next year,” Moore said. “Deer breed pretty quickly.”

He said to expect an explosion of the population.

“The number of deer that I see on the area’s trails and that I’ve been seeing lately, it’s surprising and it seems like there’s a heck of a lot more deer out there this year than I’ve seen in a long time,” said Moore, who lives in Fairfax County, Virginia.

One factor that could explain last year’s dip is better safety technology in newer vehicles. Recent studies of Subaru’s eyesight system, a system that includes automatic front braking, showed around a 5% reduction in animal hits.

Better head lighting technology could also mean fewer deer hit.

“It’s kind of safe to assert that the better a vehicle’s headlights are, the less likely you are to hit a deer,” Moore said.

But the Highway Loss Data Institute says the number of vehicles with these types of systems has changed minimally over the last few years.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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