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With their abbreviated entrance ramps, minimal shoulders, overflow traffic, construction and repair projects, accident-triggered detours and outsized percentage of tractor-trailers, many of Pennsylvania’s roads are already a challenge to navigate even on the best of days.

Those best of days aren’t today. If anything, just the opposite. The fall season brings a combination of factors that further complicate commuting.

For example, a good portion of the state’s nation-leading 1.3 million deer hunters take to the woods today — the first day of firearm season in Pennsylvania — further animating a deer population that has been on the move for weeks as breeding season kicks into high gear.

More: MUTHLER: What you need to know about the first day of rifle deer season in Pennsylvania

The results have been predictable: An increase in deer-motorist collisions, some with tragic consequences.

The probability of hitting a deer is disconcertingly high in Pennsylvania: 1 in 63, according to the State Farm insurance agency, which conducts annual surveys on deer-vehicle crashes. That’s the third highest of any state and far surpasses the national odds of 1 in 167. Worse — State Farm says the odds of striking a deer double in the fall.

All of which contributes to the estimated 4,100 such collisions that take place annually in Pennsylvania, resulting in more than 550 injuries. In York County alone, 183 collisions involved deer in 2017.

Even if drivers escape a crash unharmed, the same can seldom be said for their wallets. State Farm estimates the average insurance claim following an accident involving a deer surpasses $4,300.

Nor are deer the only highway hazards this time of year. As the recent unwelcome early intrusion of wintry weather reminded us, road conditions are about to take a turn for the treacherous. 

Even absent snowstorms, PennDOT says, seasonal challenges can include wet leaves (obscuring traffic lines and making for slippery conditions), fog, frost and sun glare.

It’s enough to make you want to crawl under the covers until springtime. But for those of us who don’t have that option, there are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Slow down, particularly during wet, snowy or icy conditions. In fact, this is just flat-out good advice anytime. And leave a little space between you and the vehicle ahead.
  • That old saying “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all” seldom applies to deer. They often travel in small packs, so if you see one, be ready to encounter others.
  • Be especially on guard for deer at posted crossings and at dawn and dusk, when they tend to be most active.
  • You wouldn’t run out into a snowstorm in sandals (or, at least, you shouldn’t). Neither should you drive on snowy roads with balding or subpar tires. Make sure your tires can handle the challenges of winter. Same goes for your windshield wipers (and don’t run out of wiper fluid).
  • As always, stay alert, don’t drive impaired, wear your seat belt and leave the smartphones tucked away when behind the wheel.

It comes down to two basic words: Common sense. But those two words can get lost in the transition to wintry driving, especially when holiday preoccupations are added to the mix.

So, let today’s start to deer hunting season also serve as the beginning of a season of especially careful driving. Your loved ones will thank you. You fellow motorists will thank you. And you’ll thank yourself.

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