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Autumn deer warning for motorists

Slowing down, staying aware could avoid a crash
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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They’re out there. Deer are perhaps the most feared.

One minute, a driver is following the light of the high beams through the darkness on a rural road.

The next moment, a deer has darted out into the roadway.

The damage from the resulting crash could be serious. According to the Insurance Journal, the annual cost of vehicle collisions with deer is in the billions of dollars.

It can also be fatal.

The National Institute for Highway Safety Administration estimates 200 deaths annually are the result of deer-vehicle crashes.

With prevention in mind, Caltrans and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are reminding motorists to remain alert for deer and other wildlife on roads through the peak period of interaction from now through December.

During the fall, which starts Friday, deer and other wildlife are more apt to move dangerously into roadways, said Marc Kenyon, Fish and Wildlife’s human-wildlife conflict program manager.

“Deer will soon start their annual migrations to winter range, bucks will be preoccupied competing for mates and bears will be searching for food in preparation for hibernation,” Kenyon said.

Those natural behaviors can lead animals into the path of unsuspecting drivers.

But drivers can improve their safety as they enter the dangerous season for wildlife crashes, said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

A key to avoiding a crash is to simply slow down and remain alert while driving, Dougherty said.

Caltrans is doing its part with signs, fencing and undercrossings to reduce wildlife-vehicle crashes, especially in wildlife corridors, he said.

The work has recently included completion of a $2.1 million undercrossing for wildlife on Highway 89 between Truckee and Sierraville. The undercrossing provides a safe path for animals to cross under the highway and 14,000 feet of deer fencing on both side of the road to prevent deer from wandering onto the blacktop.

Other suggestions for drivers include:

- Paying particular attention when driving during the morning and evening, when wild animals are most active

- If you see one animal cross the road, realize that others may be following and maintain caution

- Don’t litter. Odors may entice animals to venture near roadways

This week has been declared Watch Out for Wildlife Week in California. According to Insurance Journal, a State Farm study found 1.23 million deer-vehicle collision between July 2011 and June 2012, with a cost in vehicle damage of more than $4 billion. The average claim was for $3,305, according to State Farm.