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Don't veer for deer: Accidents peak in coming months

"Don't veer for deer."

That's the advice of Nathan Bowie, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Vehicle collisions with deer have decreased in both North Dakota and Minnesota, but the next two months are the peak times for accidents with the animals because hunting, farming and the search for food leads to an increase in their movement.

According to the North Dakota 2010 crash summary released by the state Department of Transportation, the state reported 2,956 deer crashes in 2010, a decrease of almost 16 percent from 2009, when 3,519 deer-vehicle incidents were reported.

The past year also marked the fourth consecutive year crashes decreased and the fewest number of crashes since 2000.

Minnesota reported 2,570 vehicle-deer collisions in 2010, a slight decrease from 2009's figure of 2,643.

"You can reduce the severity of the outcome," said Lt. Jody Skogen, safety and education officer with the North Dakota State Patrol. "Your vehicle can be unforgiving if you jerk too hard, and it can cause a rollover. The deer strike is far less serious than if you overreact and go into a rollover."

Drive defensively, be prepared for those unexpected encounters and always wear your seat belt."

Peak times

According to the DOT crash summary, October and November are the two months most vehicle-deer accidents happen.

Last year in North Dakota, 595 crashes took place in November and 351 in October, making up more than 30 percent of the yearly total.

During the past three years in Minnesota, there have been 7,751 deer-vehicle accidents. About 36 percent, or 2,807, have occurred during those two peak months.

Deer crashes are most likely to occur at dusk or dawn. Most crashes occur between 8 and 11 p.m. with a spike between 5 and 8 a.m., as well.

"Evening hours, early morning hours is when they're moving from feeding sites to resting sites," Skogen said. "Those are the times of day you're most likely to see them.""

Hunting, farming and the expansion of houses into rural areas all affect deer movement, Bowie said.

County breakdown

In Grand Forks County, 133 crashes we reported in 2010, fourth among counties in the state and a decrease from 175 the previous year. Ward County in northwest North Dakota led the way with 269 crashes. Ramsey County (116), Benson (87) and Walsh (82) also were in the top dozen counties in the state last year.

In northwest Minnesota, Norman County had 16 crashes with two injuries sustained, and Polk County had 11 crashes and five injuries.

Minnesota counties near the Twin Cities reported the most crashes: Hennepin County, 166; Sherburne, 160; and Dakota, 150.

Motorcycle risk

During the past three years, North Dakota has had two fatalities in vehicle-deer incidents. Minnesota has had 19 fatalities, with 15 coming from riders of motorcycles.

Bowie said the large concentration of motorcycles in the state is one reason why Minnesota has a greater number of fatalities despite similar crash figures.

Minnesota has about 225,000 registered motorcycles, an all-time high. Bowie said motorcyclists should attempt a quick stop using both breaks if a deer crosses their path.

"Often, riders use only their rear brake," he said. "If you can't stop in time and have adequate space, release your brakes before impact and attempt to swerve. Avoid riding at dusk and dawn at this time of year."