Crashes caused by deer on rise in York County, the state

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Not long after a deer on Route 30 caused a crash that killed a York City woman and  injured three on the Eastern York high football team's bus, state agencies released a warning of deer-related crashes as breeding season approaches.

The Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania Insurance Department warned drivers they are more at risk this time of year. According to an annual report from State Farm Insurance, Pennsylvania drivers have a 1-in-63 chance of being involved in a deer-related crash.

More than 4,100 crashes involving deer were reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation last year, resulting in 573 injuries and four fatalities in the state, according to the release.

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Statistics from the release show that in York County, there were 122 deer-related crashes in 2015, 30 more than in 2014. The number jumped by 21 in 2016, to 143.

Though the number of York County crashes with injuries was down last year compared to previous years, 142 of the 571 total crashes in the past five years resulted in injuries.

Jasmine McCarter, 23, possibly swerved to avoid a dead deer in the left westbound lane of Route 30 on Oct. 28, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation video, causing her to cross the median and crash into the eastbound bus carrying Eastern York football players and coaches.

Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock said that unless a driver is highly trained to deal with vehicles losing control at 50 or 60 mph, as police are, it is much safer to keep driving straight rather than trying to swerve.

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It was not clear from the PennDOT video whether McCarter hit the deer or attempted to avoid it. Hellam Township Police are hoping to salvage some footage from the cameras attached to the front of the bus, but they were damaged when the bus was left in the rain Saturday night into Sunday morning, Pollock said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission's information and education supervisor for the south-central region, Bert Einodshofer, said the deer-breeding season, known as the “rut,” runs mainly from November to December, peaking for about a week about Nov. 15-17 in Pennsylvania. 

The chasing phase is just now starting, he said, and will be followed by the peak week and slowing down until the middle of December. That's when a second, less intense rut comes in for any yearlings — doe fawns born this May or June.

Deer are less cautious and more distracted during breeding season, and drivers are on the road for longer periods in the dark because of daylight savings time, which ended Nov. 5, according to a release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Pollock said he sees deer-related crashes several times per week.

Drivers should scan both sides of roads populated with high brush or cornfields, Einodshofer said, because during breeding season, deer are on the move at every time of day. Drivers also should never assume one pair of eyes in the dark means one deer. Others could be waiting to enter the roadway.

Pennsylvania has the third highest frequency of vehicles striking deer this year, according to the State Farm report noted in the a release from the Game Commission, and typically tops the list in deer-related crashes.

Einodshofer said a reason for this is a higher population of deer overall in the state, especially in areas where hunting cannot control it. 

Pollock agreed, saying in his 15 years in the department he's always seen a high number of crashes linked to deer.

Urban sprawl can be a contributing factor to increased collisions, Einodshofer said, because it leads to habitat loss for the deer and more areas where hunting is not allowed to control the population.

He said deer aren’t necessarily going to leave, because they take advantage of the food source nocturnally.

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Einodshofer said the state has a large network of roads, especially in higher population suburban areas, in which deer are more populous.

In hunting-accessible areas, the Game Commission will allow specific deer populations to expand year to year, depending on whether or not they’re at a reasonable level, he said.

The next deer hunting season in York County begins the Monday after Thanksgiving, Einodshofer said.