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Bambi and friends endanger motorists

PARK RAPIDS - If you've had one of those white-knuckle encounters with a deer on the road lately, you're not alone.

They're everywhere.

And, as prime deer-vehicle collision season occurs, authorities are warning of the obvious: Drive carefully and keep a lookout.

"Deer are literally falling off the trees up there," said Pat Hahn, a communications specialist with Minnesota's Department of Public Safety (DPS).

What troubles Hahn and other traffic safety experts is the increasing number of car-motorcycle collisions they're seeing.

"The deer herd is at record levels right now," Hahn said. "This is the highest we've seen for motorcycle-deer fatalities. Last year had six but that was 10 percent of all our fatalities."

This year is on track with 2007, Hahn said, and may surpass the number of motorcycle fatalities caused by collisions with deer.

"At least two of the (fatal motorcycle) collisions were deer-cycle," he said of 2008 crashes to date.

"The thing with deer, all the best places to ride a motorcycle are all the best places to be a deer," Hahn said. "It's not a matter of if you're gonna meet up with a deer, it's a matter of when. On a motorcycle you don't have the protection of seat belts, a crash cage and things like that. It's you versus the deer and it's not a good bet."

And while motorists are urged "don't veer for deer," motorcyclists are cautioned just the opposite.

"We see motorists trying to veer for deer," DPS communications officer Nathan Bowie said. They end up in a ditch, or in oncoming traffic. He said that's worrisome. "Brake, hold on to wheel and hit the deer," he advises. "That's the safest path."

"With bike riders, it's different," Hahn said. "You can't plan on hitting the deer. You slow down as much as you possibly can, and then swerve around the deer.

"You're trying to stay within your lane of traffic," he said. "And maybe that act of reducing speed is gonna buy you a few seconds of time and a little extra space for the two of you to clear out of there and not have to tangle."

Hubbard County Chief Deputy Frank Homer said accident rates with motorcycles increase proportionately with the amounts of traffic.

"We're seeing more bikes out on the road, probably because of gas prices," Homer said. "People are trying to save money, but along with motorbikes, our deer population has increased. With cyclists you have to be extra defensive."

Homer said deer have been on the move since nights cooled down a week ago. Even streets like Henrietta Avenue, which carry a large volume of traffic, aren't immune to deer standing in the road.

"It applies to everyone," Hahn said. "We even have deer crashes in the Twin Cities."

Homer said "that time period between 6 (p.m.) and midnight is tremendous for deer strikes," he said. If you're on a motorcycle, "maybe staying off the road at that time" is a good idea.

But, to mix animal metaphors, the cardinal rule of deer is that where two or three are gathered...

"If you see one on the highway, slow down even if they've crossed, because there's going to be one or two behind them," Homer cautioned.