'It was scary': dangers of deer on UK roads

Deer collisions feature pics

Deer Warning Signs are posted in areas with lots of deer, so beware even if you haven't seen them.

Collisions between vehicles and reindeer cause many deaths every year, including one, in the UK

It was 5.30 am when Aaron Herringshaw set out from his home in Bournemouth driving his Mercedes-Benz C200 saloon used to drive the 25 miles to his job as a chef in the heart of Dorset. He enjoyed the ride, especially at the time of day when the sun was rising and the roads were calm.

Then, as he rode along the familiar country road, a deer jumped out of the hedge directly in front of him. Before he could react, Herringshaw hit him. The deer darted away.

A few months later, Herringshaw recalls the experience of being hit by a large deer at about 40 mph.

“It was terrible,” he says. “The animal was literally right in front of me and there was nothing I could do. This Mercedes was a heavy car, but it shook from the impact.”

Such was the damage done to the 15-year-old Mears that Herringshaw's insurer wrote to him. Herringshaw replaced it with a BMW 320 CI convertible sedan of a similar age. However, within a week, and on his own road, he crashed into another deer in similar circumstances. Unfortunately, this time the deer was killed and, again, Herringshaw's car was scrapped.

“Now, every time I drive down a country road, I'm afraid another deer will jump out in front of me,” says Herringshaw. “I see them all the time where there are no other people. I have never been a fast racer, but now I am not near the speed limit, which makes the drivers behind me itch.”

Has Herringshaw just been out of luck? In fact, according to several studies, 400 drivers and their passengers are injured in collisions involving deer every year, and perhaps as many as 1000 and up to 20 are killed. As for deer, it is believed that at least 40 are killed on UK roads every year, and perhaps as many as 000. Peak months for clashes are May and October to January, with peak times in the early morning when the deer are in search of a mate and new territories.

However, with the exception of figures cited for human death, figures for human, wounded, and dead deer should be treated with caution. This is because there is no legal requirement in the UK for incidents to be submitted and the official documents that do exist are often inconsistent between monitoring organisations.

Until more precise data is available, car owners can only look overseas to get a more accurate picture. In Germany, for example, where collisions involving animals are to be recorded, there are 1000 non-fatal and 20 driver and passenger fatalities each year, stemming from 220,000 incidents deer-reviews.

Whatever the true facts, it's fair to say that deer collisions are a problem in the UK, as I discovered when I posted my account of near-experience deer on a popular motorists' forum. He quickly attracted a flood of tales by analogy, some of which are listed below, while others are held back on the basis of taste, as running into a deer can be a messy business...

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Estimates of the size of the deer population in the UK range from 1,5 to two million. This is the highest in 1000 years and this figure is expected to rise. According to surveys conducted by the British Deer Society, there are six recorded species of deer in the UK, each concentrated in different directions. In England, for example, muntjacs and fallow deer dominate the Midlands, South and East, while red deer are found mainly in the center and north of Scotland, but also in Cornwall and Norfolk. Roe deer are distributed evenly throughout the UK.

Useful pub quiz facts are possible, but knowing where a particular deer dominate can save your life or at least your bonus no claim. The fact is that depending on the species, deer can be very large animals. The red deer is the biggest. Indeed, they are the largest British land mammal. An adult male reaches up to 1,37 m at the withers and weighs up to 190 kg. Deer are smaller, males up to 0,94 m and 93 kg. Muntjacs are among the smallest, at 0,52m and 18kg, but a 30 mph collision with one still has the potential to cause significant damage or injury.

The south east of England experiences the UK's largest number of deer-related crashes and many councils have taken action to keep motorists and deer apart. One such is Hertfordshire County Council.

“We have erected deer fences in places that are known to be migratory checkpoints, especially on major new highways,” says Phil Bibby, cabinet member for the Council for Highways and the Environment. “However, we cannot protect all roads, so we urge motorists to be careful, especially on rural and semi-rural roads.”

Meanwhile, in partnership with Roads of England, some councils have been encouraging landowners who have the right to manage deer on their land to boost culling rates. Other measures include the erection of deer warning signs, especially at known crossing points, and in several places, dynamic signs driven by the presence of deer.

Despite these and other measures, however, drivers are often jaded about the proximity of deer and who can blame them when deer are quite rare in some places, despite their numbers? Leonardo Hubert, senior ecologist at Turnpike England, cautions against complacency.

“You may well have traveled along a well-known route with deer warning signs, but never spotted the animals, but the fact is that these signs were placed in places with a high number of deer,” he says.

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“There may be only one deer hiding in the nearby terrain or woods or they may be species that gather in large groups with the possibility that when you see one and avoid it, others follow and rush onto the road. It is important that drivers are aware of the availability and take extra care.”

If you find yourself behind Aaron Herringshaw on some quiet Dorset Road, you can be sure that's exactly what he does.

See a deer? Here's what to do

Know Deer offers drivers these safety tips:

 Heed deer warning signs and drive with caution.

 Exercise extreme caution during the months of May and from October to January.

 If you see one deer, expect more.

 At night, and as long as there is no oncoming traffic, use the main beam to help highlight the deer's eyes. If you encounter one, dip your lights to avoid being startled and "freeze".

 Don't swerve to avoid hitting a deer, and if a collision is unavoidable, hit it while maintaining full control of your vehicle.

If you hit a deer...

 First, make sure you are safe.

 Do not approach the animal or try to calm it down.

 Call the police.

Near-deer experiences

Here are some of the stories posted on the forum by popular motorists on drivers who have recently had close contacts of the genus deer.

 “Last month, a deer jumped out in front of me at about 3 pm on a clear day. I didn't hit him, but I hit the oak tree and did enough damage to write off my car.”

 “A deer jumped out of a gap in the hedge and I swerved to the side, putting my car on the edge of grass and hedge trim.”

 “I hit a deer the day after I picked up my new civilian type R.”

 “A buddy hit one at 20 mph a week after buying an Audi S3. The impact was taken out of the front bumper, grille and all the plastic and deployed airbags.”

 "I wrote from my mini - last year's deer run over."

 “I see a dead deer on the side of the road every two to three weeks for 25 kilometers in the Devon countryside.”

 “I was driving a Ford Puma when the muntjac jumped across the road. He broke the bumper, smashed the headlight and bent the chassis.”

 “One giant deer was caught on the edge of my car's windshield pillar. Another blow to the hood and smashed the headlights. And another smashed the windshield of my car.”

 “One very early summer morning, a massive deer jumped in front of me. I left the house half a second late, I would have horned him!”

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