Time change yields deer dangers

By Danza Johnson
Daily Journal
TUPELO – When daylight-saving time ends early Sunday morning, someone should tell the deer to watch out for cars – and vice versa.
Because deer move around before sunrise and after sunset, the chances of a deer-vehicle collision increase because of the time change.
“Now when people get off work and go home the sun still is up and the deer are still in the woods,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “As soon as the sun goes down, deer come out and that’s going to put them on the same roads as the people going home from work and that’s a collision waiting to happen. Our deer-related accidents really go up after October.”
Understanding deer patterns can help cut down on these accidents, said Scott Edwards, a wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
“Deer move about two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset,” said Edwards. “During those four hours you’ll see more deer activity than any other time. Now sunset falls at 7 o’clock when most people are already home from work and settled in. When the sun starts setting at 5:30 p.m. after daylight-saving time, people will still be on their way home from work, and this puts them on the same roads with the deer.
“Deer don’t have clocks, they don’t change their patterns. We do.”
Edwards said the grass that’s planted on the roadsides to stop erosion attracts deer for feeding, putting them in a position to be hit by vehicles.
“Up until the fall, deer feed in the woods on rye and other types of grasses,” explained Edwards. “Now those things have started dying out, pushing the deer to the road to feed.”

Auto accidents rise
Rob Rice, a State Farm insurance agent in Tupelo, has seen his share of deer-vehicle accidents. Even though he doesn’t keep statistics on the number of accidents involving deer, Rice knows they go up after daylight-saving time ends.
“From October to April, we definitely have more deer-involved accidents than any other time of year,” said Rice. “I think it’s a function of cooler weather and more nightfall.”
According to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, there were 82 automobile accidents reported involving deer in 2004-2005 in Northeast Mississippi.
Mississippi Highway Patrol Sgt. H.L. Kitchens said more deer accidents are seen on Highway 78 and Interstate 55 than on less-traveled roads. Even though deer are out during peak travel time after October, Kitchens said people still can protect themselves from colliding with one.
“The biggest reason for cars hitting deer is they just don’t see them or when they do, it’s too late,” said Kitchens. “If you pay attention and realize that it is very likely that deer are near the roads, some of the accidents can be prevented. People should always look for their eyes at night. When headlights hit them they will give off a shiny color.
“Speed should be reduced lower than normal so people can have time to react when they do spot a deer,” he said. “When people try to swerve to dodge the animals, they often have worse accidents. It’s better to hit the deer than to hit another car or run off the road.”

Contact Daily Journal reporter Danza Johnson at 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com