The chances of slamming your car into a deer just went up.
It happens every year — from October to December, auto accidents involving deer skyrocket just about everywhere nationwide.
“In the summer months, you don’t see a lot of deer,” Albemarle County police Lt. Todd Hopwood said of accidents involving the animals. But when fall arrives, “we get a pile of ’em.”
From January through September of this year, there were about 81 auto accidents involving deer in the county, according to the department’s statistics, which are imprecise because not all such accidents are reported. From October through December 2007, there were approximately 93 such accidents.
The reasons are simple: Deer are entering mating season, and hunting season starts in the fall. Plus, there are more deer and people.
This time of year keeps Virginia Department of Transportation maintenance workers busy.
Typically, the workers pick up two to three deer carcasses a day, said Lou Hatter, VDOT spokesman. During the next couple of months, they can expect to gather about 15 to 20 deer a day from roadways in Albemarle and Greene County.
“It’s always an increase this time of year,” Hatter said.
According to State Farm Insurance, which releases deer-auto accident statistics annually, such crashes in Virginia are up 31.8 percent since 2003. The company bases its statistics on deer accident claims and vehicle registrations.
State Farm estimates that 54,135 Virginia drivers — one in 123 — hit deer during the last half of 2007 and the first half of 2008.
The state ranks eighth in that category nationwide. West Virginia topped the list for the second straight year.
Annually nationwide, there are 1.5 million deer-auto accidents, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics. Such accidents result in 150 fatalities and $1.1 billion in property damage annually.
The average property damage caused per incident is $2,950, up 2.5 percent compared with last year, State Farm reported.
The increase in deer-auto crashes has continued over a long period.
According to a 2006 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, there was a tenfold increase during the past 40 years in auto accidents involving deer.
There are ways to avoid hitting deer.
“Slow down,” Hopwood said. And “don’t ever assume that [deer] are not going to do the unpredictable.”
He added that drivers should avoid swerving to miss a deer. Doing so can cause a driver to lose control of the car or send it into a tree or another vehicle.
Nor should drivers slam on the brakes, Hopwood emphasized. A “panic stop” can cause a driver to lose control of steering.
Julia Dixon, spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, added that drivers need to be extra aware when they see a deer.
“Deer live in herds,” she said. “So if you see one, there probably are more.”
Although the season of deer versus car has arrived, it hasn’t yet shifted into high gear.
The animals’ mating season is just getting started. And hunting season also is in the early stages, with only archery season having begun. General firearm season begins in this area on Nov. 12.