Driving from Surrey to Somerset is, for me, a pleasant experience, especially now during lockdown as the traffic is light and the scenery beautiful. The route through Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset before arriving at Somerset, provides a passage through countryside steeped in history with possibly the oldest landmark being Stonehenge.
I was fortunate enough to have need to make this journey again on Monday just gone. The traffic was light, the sun was in the sky, and the forecast for heavy winds and rain seemed to be a little off the mark. As I drove therefore, enjoying the scenery, my eyes instinctively scanned for deer that might be grazing in the tree lined fields that border the A303. I can normally spot a few as they have become content with the road noise and don’t seem to mind being out during the day especially when there is a nearby tree line to escape to. On this journey however, what struck me most, was the high number of recently killed deer scattered along the edge of the road. On one stretch of about 10 miles I counted seven dead deer. The carcasses were full bodied indicating they were relatively recent results of roadkill collisions. Like you, I see plenty of roadkill deer when driving throughout the UK but it got me wondering about how many incidents annually there actually are, when its more likely to happen, and if it’s going to get better or worse.
A little research first determined that the UK doesn’t score well on recording the number of deer related collisions that occur on our roads. The numbers quoted on nearly all websites I searched were the same and date back a decade or more. They obviously aren’t accurate as we know deer populations are growing annually, as is the volume of traffic, so an estimate of 74,000 incidents recorded in 2010 is very unlikely to bear too much resemblance to 2021. One would assume therefore, that the number is significantly higher. The only real way to get a more accurate figure would be to ask all motor insurance companies for information….maybe thats something one of our road organisations could undertake. For now, let’s stick with the 74,000 and see how the related statistics devolve from that total.
Fortunately, out of 74,000 collisions only between 400-1000 vehicle occupants are injured as a result. Thats still a high number in itself but at approximately 1 percent it shows that either our cars are pretty sturdy or that most incidents are glancing blows rather than head on impacts. Tragically, a more accurate number that comes from the figures, is that approximately 20 people are killed annually. In comparison, Germany (where detailed statistics are recorded), a total of 220,000 deer incidents result in 1000 injuries with only 20 resulting in fatality. It is interesting that the human injuries are comparable but the actual incidents of collisions are much higher. It’s difficult to understand why that would be the case but maybe it’s down to the localities of where the collisions occur. Hitting a deer head on at speed will be the most likely occurrence resulting in human traumatic injury, and these are more likely to occur on motorways or countryside A roads. Similarly, accidents that occur at night time are more likely to be high impact simply due to a reduced time to react combined with a higher likelihood to come across deer. For those of us who hunt, male deer become incredibly ignorant to the dangers around them during the rut. It’s no surprise therefore to discover that there are more collisions during those periods, but with CWD, Sika, Fallow and Red deer this might also be linked to the wintery road conditions that prevail at the time.
Assuming things are only going to get worse, then its probably worth considering what you should do to minimise the likelihood that you will be involved in a collision, or if you are how to reduce the impact of the incident. First off its definitely worth accepting that where there is a deer warning sign, accept that you might actually come across some. Secondly, if you see one deer then assume there are more around. If you are driving at night and are using full beam then dip your headlights if you see a deer in order to prevent making it freeze in the light. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also slow down to avoid hitting it if it doesn’t try to avoid you! Finally, and this is the hard one, try not to oversteer to avoid the animal as the result of that may well be worse than hitting it; but unfortunately your instincts will be in control by this stage and it will come down to how good you are at driving.
If you are unlucky enough to it a deer, but lucky enough not to have suffered personal injury, then don’t get out of your car to go and check out the deer. Pull over at a safe place and call the police who will bring specialists to deal with the animal.
If you have been, or become in the future, one of the numbers in the statistics then please inform the British Deer Society as they are trying to establish more accurate numbers. They have a few contact and reporting options that can be found on their website https://www.bds.org.uk/information-advice/issues-with-deer/advice-for-drivers/