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North Dakota ranks ninth in deer-car collisions

FARGO -- Charles Anderson was excited about seeing the Bison in the Fargodome for the first time on Saturday, but it was a different animal that had the Minot, N.D., man itching to leave early Friday for Fargo.

Driving in daylight would reduce his chances of hitting a deer, he said.

"You never thought about it 10 years ago," said Anderson, a State Farm Insurance agent. "Now, it's a bigger concern."

A report released by State Farm last week ranked North Dakota ninth in the nation for frequency of deer-vehicle collisions.

The likelihood of colliding with a deer in North Dakota is 1 in 136, according to the report, which divided the number of vehicle registrations in the state by an estimated number of collisions based on claims from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.

West Virginia topped the list with a collision likelihood of 1 in 39.

The number of deer crashes tends to pick up in October, November and December, when hunting season and mating season collide. Last year, 40 percent of crashes in North Dakota occurred during the three-month period, according to the Department of Transportation.

Greg Link, assistant chief of the state Game and Fish Department's wildlife division, said mild winters over the past decade allowed deer to flourish.

That's backed up by DOT statistics: From 1999 to 2004, deer-vehicle crashes rose from 2,648 to 4,283. The total also topped 4,000 in 2007, with 4,118 crashes.

Game and Fish issued more hunting permits to put pressure on the deer population. That, along with the hard winter of 2008-09, appears to have thinned the population, Link said.

Last year's deer crash total of 3,656 was down 11 percent from 2007 and the lowest total since 2001, according to the DOT.

As of Friday, 1,848 deer crashes had been reported so far this year, compared to 2,186 during the first nine months of 2008.

Ward County, home to Minot, had the highest number of deer crashes last year, with 337, followed by Burleigh and Morton counties with 215 each. Cass County had 107 crashes, Grand Forks County 160.

Nationwide, estimated deer crashes from July 2007 through June 2009 were up 18.3 percent over the same timeframe in 2002-04, State Farm's report stated. The insurer attributed the rise in crash frequency to more cars on the road and a combination of growing deer populations and deer habitat being displaced by urban sprawl.

State Farm's crash estimate for North Dakota, which it calculated by taking the number of claims and extrapolating it based on market share - was down 5.9 percent in a comparison of the same two-year periods.

Anderson said drivers have to watch for not only deer, but also wild turkeys and livestock such as cows and horses that wander onto the road.

Anderson, an insurance agent for 27 years and a deer hunter for 30 years, said he can recall past hunting seasons when he saw very few deer.

"Now, that's not a problem," he said.

Tips for reducing deer-vehicle collisions

• Be aware of posted "deer crossing" signs.

• Remember that deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.

• Use high-beam headlights as much as possible at night to illuminate areas from which deer will enter roadways.

• Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds - where there's one, there likely are more.

• Don't rely on car-mounted deer whistles.

• If a deer collision seems inevitable, don't swerve because it could cause you to lose control of the car or put you in the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Source: State Farm Insurance