HOT SPRINGS – Recent law enforcement logs from the Fall River County sheriff’s office have been showing a number of vehicles colliding with deer.
For example, at about 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, near Edgemont, Deputy Lyle Norton responded to a deer and vehicle accident.
Norton said he doesn’t have any hard numbers on the quantity of deer crashing into vehicles lately, but he believes the number is rising.
Norton attributes the increase to deer moving to feed, to tank up before their rut and winter.
"They’re going to food," Norton said. "We always see an increase in numbers in the fall."
The deer rut doesn’t start until later – November – he said. But elk are now rutting, and crossing highways regularly, motorists should be on the lookout for elk, he said.
According to State Farm insurance records, South Dakota is always among the top 10 in deer vehicle crashes, despite a low human population. In 2015, according to State Farm, South Dakotans face a one in 73 chance of hitting a deer on the road, especially during autumn.
Other states that rank high on the top 10 list include neighbors Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota; as well as eastern states like West Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
While State Farm reports show the number of deer - car collisions has declined somewhat recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s records show a total of about 1 million car collisions with deer annually.
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These accidents kill 200 people – fewer among those wearing seat belts, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study – cause more than 10,000 injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage. The average repair cost of a deer collision is about $3,000.
Norton said the typical deer collision involves a deer running across the road and being struck by the car.
"But," Norton said, "I’ve seen everything: Deer hitting the front end, the side of vehicles… everything, they break out windshields and end up in the back seat."
What can motorists do to avoid deer crashes?
"My advice is to always be watching for deer, especially where there are a high numbers of deer," Norton said. "Always be vigilant."
He also recommended using high beams when you can, but obeying the law and dimming your lights when other cars approach.
One place Norton said he sees this recently is between Hot Springs and Minnekahta Junction.
Elk in high numbers are also crossing the road there, too, he said.