WASHINGTON – It happens every year: The leaves turn, the deer start moving and Jim Lizzio starts seeing two or three deer-related dents at his auto body shop in Glenn Dale.
“If you hit a deer you’re going to have anywhere between about $1,500 and $3,000 in damage,” he said. “If you hit them in the front there’s going to be headlights, grilles, hoods, bumpers, everything. They do a lot of damage.”
As deer across the state get more active during a breeding season that runs from October to mid-December, they begin to cross roads more often, raising the risk that motorists will hit one, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
State officials could not provide exact numbers of such accidents: The State Highway Administration said police reported 1,490 “animal-related collisions” last year, while DNR said that as many as 3,849 deer were killed in crashes in 2003.
But with deer weighing anywhere from 50 to 250 pounds, according to DNR, any collision can ruin a motorist’s day — to say nothing of the deer and the vehicle.
Lizzio, who owns Glenn Dale Auto, said he sees damage caused by deer at least twice a week this time of year.
White Flint Collision Center in Rockville also sees two or three deer-related collisions per week, said office manager Ashley Fields. Damages average $1,500 to $2,000, she said, depending on deer physics.
“It all depends on how they hit it,” Fields said. “Sometimes it takes out a lamp and the hood. Sometimes it rolls onto the top.”
And drivers of SUVs and pickups need to be just as wary as sedan drivers, Fields said. The bigger vehicles will “hit it and they’ll usually run it over,” she said, adding that she saw a pickup truck with minimal damage from a deer, but it would not start.
“It (the deer) actually ripped the wiring harness out from underneath,” she said. “Sometimes having it go underneath can be worse than it going over.”
The most severe case she ever saw involved a Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible. The doomed deer rolled over the windshield and crushed the convertible top, causing $3,000 in damage.
Doug Hotton, senior biologist for deer management with the Department of Natural Resources, has himself hit a deer, though it was a hit and run. The deer left the scene, leaving him with about $2,200 in damage
In order to minimize risk of hitting a deer, Hotton said, drivers should be cautious when driving just before dawn and just after dusk, the time when deer tend to move a lot. And deer frequently travel together, so one deer in the road could mean that others will try to cross as well, he said. Drivers should slow down whenever they spot a deer.
Deer-crossing signs by the side of the road indicate an area where the risk of a collision is greater, Hotton said, because the signs are installed in areas where road crews recover a lot of dead deer.
Finally, he said, drivers should brake hard to avoid hitting deer, but they should not swerve, as they may leave the road or enter oncoming traffic. Maryland State Police agree.
“You’re better off to strike the deer than run off the road,” said Sgt. Rob Moroney of the state police. “Our No. 1 concern is the people in the vehicles.”
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