If you’re headed over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving dinner, keep an eye out for deer. They’re especially hazardous right about now.
Jackie Morrison of rural Spring Hill in Johnson County knows.
She got her red Volkswagen Jetta back Friday - along with a $3,500 bill to repair the damage from a deer that jumped into her path a few weeks ago. Just seconds before the animal caved in her passenger door, she had been listening to an NPR report on drivers hitting deer.
“It was like this big shadow I could see and then all of a sudden - bam! - it hit the car, “ said Morrison.
It was the second time in about six years that she had hit a deer on that stretch of 191st Street between Pflumm and Lackman roads.
Those were two of at least 16 deer strikes along 191st Street in Johnson County over the past seven years, The Kansas City Star’s analysis of deer-related crashes in Kansas and Missouri revealed. In that period, there were 13,640 crashes involving deer in the 10-county metropolitan area.
The vast majority, about 93 percent, of those resulted in only property damage, but four people died in deer-related crashes and 1,101 people were injured during that period. Slightly more than half of the crashes occurred within city limits.
The good news, though, is that we appear to be getting better at avoiding deer on the road. The number of drivers in the 10-county metro area who report having crashed because of deer has dropped 20 percent - 2,140 in 2006 to 1,699 last year. That doesn’t count people who deal with the damage without reporting it, but the decline has been steady.
Conservation and transportation officials chalk that up to several factors, including drivers paying better attention and urban deer management programs.
“Awareness is a big, big thing, “ said Steve Porter, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, which tries to alert drivers of deer dangers in the spring and fall.
Meanwhile, a program to alleviate deer-vehicle crashes uses bow hunters to harvest deer in urban areas. Since the program started in 2005, archers in Kansas City have taken 3,295 deer.
The economy’s dampening effect on travel and a substantial outbreak of a fatal deer disease over the past two years might have helped drive the crash numbers down.
But if you’re about to crash into a deer, Lt. Joshua Kellerman, a spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, says you’re better off hitting it head-on instead of swerving - possibly into oncoming traffic or a ditch.
After two strikes, Morrison does what she can to look out for deer.
“I’m cautious, but I’m not sure that even being cautious will keep them from jumping wildly when they are in rut like they are now, “ she said.
The damage can be considerable when they do jump out.
The evidence was on display Monday at Don’s Body Shop in Olathe, where people were working on vehicles that had cut short a deer’s bolt across asphalt. They had finished fixing Morrison’s Jetta a few days earlier, part of the annual run of autumn deer damage.
Hitting a deer usually leaves cars with less damage than plowing into another vehicle, said Grant Sunday, who owns Don’s Body Shop. Repairs that take around two weeks and cost about $4,000 to $5,000 are typical. But some repairs can run as high as $10,000.
Two weeks ago, Sunday’s crew started working on a vehicle that lost its whole roof when a deer came through the windshield.
The Kansas Department of Transportation estimated that deer-related crashes cost $77.8 million last year.
The data analyzed by The Star show that you are more likely to crash because of a deer around 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Nov. 13 has been an especially bad day, the data show, but crashes can happen any time, not just in the peak weeks of November.
John O’Hara of Shawnee hit a deer in July 2002 on Interstate 29 near St. Joseph.
“I was driving down I-29, and all of the sudden the deer comes from the left at me out of the dark, “ he said. “The thing looks like it’s going to turn around, but it doesn’t. It ends up diving right back at me.”
The deer smashed into the front side of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, sending the animal into a tailspin.
“Then it just rips down the side of my car, all the way around the back, demolishing everything, “ he said.
Other key findings of the analysis:
Both Kansas Cities had the most crashes in the metro area from 2006 to 2012 - 1,783 deer hit in Kansas City and 885 crashes because of deer in Kansas City, Kan. (The states tally numbers differently.)
In the Northland counties of Clay, Platte and Ray, drivers hit the most deer on Missouri 152, Interstate 435 and Missouri 45.
On the Kansas side, it’s worst on Kansas 10, U.S. 69 and U.S. 169 in Douglas, Johnson and Miami counties.
In Leavenworth and Wayndotte counties, the most deer-related crashes were reported on Interstate 70, U.S. 24 and U.S. 73.
In Jackson and Cass counties, U.S. 71/Interstate 49, Interstate 470 and Missouri 7 had the highest number of deer hit.
It was along a stretch of I-49 where Richard Hill of Raymore hit his first deer Nov. 9 as he was on his way to hunt ducks.
“Right before the Peculiar (Mo.) exit, a deer stepped out from the median, “ he said. “I was in the far right lane, and you know you can’t swerve. You got to hit your brakes and get over a little bit, but you can’t swerve.”
He ended up hitting the deer with the driver-side headlight of his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado.
“It messed up the whole driver side of the truck, “ he said. “My truck was still drivable. I just couldn’t open the driver-side door. It was all smashed in.”
The wreck put his truck in the shop for more than two weeks.
The experience startled Hill. He is used to gunfire, but he was surprised how loud a crash with a deer can be.
“I deer hunt, and you know this time of year they are on the move, “ he said. “I’m generally pretty leery, but this one just came out of nowhere.”
Hill had been watching the sides of the road that morning. He didn’t expect a deer to bound out of the median.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you, “ Hill said. “Now I’m a little more shook up from it - not necessarily scared to drive - but more nervous that the deer is going to step out than I have been in the past.”
To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deer crashes by the numbers
▪ 96,632 deer-related crashes were reported in Kansas and Missouri from 2006 to 2012.
▪ 94.5 percent of those crashes resulted in only property damage.
▪ 5,361 of the crashes left a person injured or dead.
▪ 40 of the crashes in Kansas were fatal, and one of those wrecks killed two people.
▪ 26 people lost their lives when vehicles hit deer in Missouri.
▪ 3,824 people were injured in deer-related crashes in Kansas.
▪ 2,519 people were injured when vehicles struck deer in Missouri.