Pa. drivers have 1 in 67 chance of hitting deer

Margarita Cambest
  • Pennsylvania drivers have a 1 in 67 chance of hitting a deer this year, an increase of about 6 percent.
  • Motorists can report locations of dead deer or bears on state highways to PennDOT’s 24-hour toll free hotline, 1-800-FIX-ROAD.

Drivers might have spotted a dead deer or two on Pennsylvania roadways recently.

For those out of the loop, it’s deer mating season in the commonwealth, and a new report finds Pennsylvanians are at a slightly increased risk for colliding with Bambi’s ilk this year.

A whitetail doe runs through Springwood Golf Course, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Pennsylvania drivers have a 1 in 67 chance of hitting a deer this year, an increase of about 6 percent since 2015, and the state is third in the nation for deer and auto collisions reported to the auto insurer State Farm. Pennsylvania falls behind only West Virginia and Montana and just ahead of Iowa. Last year, Iowa took the third spot.

“Deer are typically nocturnal, but during the breeding season they can be seen at any hour of the day, and they’re unpredictable,” said Bert Einodshofer, Pennsylvania Game Commission Southcentral Region information and education supervisor. His office oversees York, Adams and surrounding counties.

The unpredictable nature of how deer move makes them dangerous, especially on the roadways, Einodshofer said.

Last year, Pennsylvania motorists reported 3,263 collisions with deer, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Of those, 122 crashes were in York County, and 11 people reported injuries.

According to estimates from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an estimated 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year, resulting in lots of injuries, about $1 billion in vehicle damage and 166 deaths in 2014.

Roadkill: However, injuries aren’t the only problem. Sometimes, deer carcasses sit on the side of the road for days before getting reported to the proper authorities.

If the deer is on a municipal or township road, the responsibility falls on the local game commission. Einodshofer said his department tries to get deer, and rarely, bears, picked up within 48 hours, depending on officer availability.

On state highways, the responsibility falls on PennDOT. A transportation law signed in July requires the department to remove deer from state roads immediately upon being notified and when the department is "conducting general maintenance on the state right-of-way."

While taking a drive through northern Pennsylvania earlier this year, state Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, noticed a number of dead deer on Pennsylvania’s roads.

“PennDOT had traditionally done that role, but there was nothing in law requiring it and no timetable laid out,” said the senator’s spokesman, Casey Long.

The law does not specify penalties, and a PennDOT spokeswoman said the department is still reviewing the language of the law and will take action when the department does maintenance.

“That response is troubling on a couple of fronts,” Long said. “The bill was signed into law almost four months ago now ... so I’m not sure why PennDOT would need to review the language.”

District 8 spokesman Greg Penny says his officers respond immediately to a deer that has been hit and is blocking the travel lanes of a roadway. Crew members pull the deer out of the road so that it is no longer a safety hazard, and contractors are dispatched within 24 hours of being notified to remove the carcass whenever possible, but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.

“It may take a little longer if the notification comes late Friday or late in the day before a holiday (or if) the operator assigned to this duty can’t get it the next business day,” he said.

Under state law, a Pennsylvania resident may remove the deer from the road and take it home for processing by calling the local game commission for a consumption permit within 24 hours.

Avoid an accident: Peak hunting season is late November, so the deer situation is likely to get worse. Einodshofer said deer are most active in the early morning and evening hours, and as daylight gets shorter, the number of deer on the road will increase as they look to find a mate.

The best way to avoid getting into an accident is to slow down and stay alert, as many accidents occur when drivers swerve to avoid the impact, he said.

“If you see deer crossing the roadway, presume there’s more than one and be really cautious before speeding up,” he said.

Motorists can report locations of dead deer or bears on state highways to PennDOT’s 24-hour toll free hotline, 1-800-FIX-ROAD. York County drivers may call the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southcentral Region office at 814-643-1831.