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Deer horn in on drivers

BY SCOTT SHENK

Buckle up. It looks as if your chances of hitting a deer are higher this year.

In its annual report on deer-related vehicle crashes, State Farm says such accidents have increased nationwide and in Virginia.

Combine that with the fact that mating season has kicked in, and it could be a wild fall and winter on area roads.

“Be alert,” said Bill Kennedy, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “Especially in the early a.m. or at dusk.”

While current local statistics aren’t available, Fauquier annually leads all area counties in deer-related crashes.

The county averages about 150 such crashes a year, said Nelson Lafon, a deer program coordinator with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Stafford averages about 120 and Spotsylvania 80.

Seventy-three  people have been injured in deer-related car crashes in Fauquier in 2011 and so far this year, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. No other area locality has reported double-digit injury rates from such crashes.

Now is the time to be extra wary of deer. The peak season for deer-related crashes typically occurs between October and December.

“Particularly in early to mid-November it’s the worst,” said Lafon.

He said the state’s deer population stands in the 1 million range. It’s tough to manage that number because there aren’t as many hunters these days.

State Farm, which says it is the nation’s biggest auto insurer, uses claims and  licensed-driver statistics from the Federal Highway Administration to project the number of deer-related car crashes each year.

The insurer says there were 1.23 million such accidents nationwide between July 2011 and June 2012. That’s a 7.7 percent increase over 2010–11 and a drastic reversal of the trend during the past three years, when such accidents fell by 2.2 percent.

State Farm reported that in 2010–11 there were 48,658 deer-related crashes in Virginia. This year there were a projected 52,369 such crashes. The actual number of deer-related crashes is most likely higher than figures show, because many such accidents go unreported.

Deadly deer crashes are up in the state as well. So far in 2012, six people have been killed in accidents involving the animals, according to the Virginia DMV. That equals the total number of such fatalities in 2011. None of the fatalities happened locally.

Virginia jumped two places and holds the No. 10 spot nationally in State Farm’s list of states where drivers are most likely to have a deer-related crash.

The insurance provider says that one in every 103.2 crashes in Virginia is deer-related. West Virginia holds onto the title as the state where you are most likely to crash into a deer.

Scott Shenk:  540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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