Close encounters

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Some find them cute, a charming representation of the area's rural nature. However, the deer that roam Sussex County also present a potentially lethal danger to motorists. Richard Taft of Hopatcong hit a deer late one September evening about two years ago on Route 206 just outside of Chester. "It was standing in the lane just past a bend in the road and I hit it at about 50 miles per hour," said Taft. "The deer ended up dead on the scene, and most likely never felt a thing." Taft did not sustain any serious injuries, but his $1,500 repair bill included a front headlight, grill and fender damage, and a new radiator. Taft is not alone. According to a national study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, motorists crash into deer more than 4,000 times a day. Each year, an estimated 200 human fatalities result from crashes involving animals, including both direct vehicle animal collisions and accidents in which a driver tried to avoid an animal and ran off the roadway. Last year's record 210 killed drivers was more than twice the number posted a decade ago in 1993. And the number of motorists injured has increased to over 14,000 annually. "The deer population is growing and there are more vehicles on the road every year," said Allan Williams, the institute's chief scientist. "There's just a lot more chance for interaction with animals on the roads." The institute maintains that accidents are most likely to happen in November because hunters are out and deer are in the middle of their mating season. Such crashes are most likely to occur during evening or nighttime, often on rural roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that October and November are the worst months for car versus animal crashes. And deer-car crashes injure far more drivers than any other kind of vehicle-animal collision -- 86 percent. Other animals involved in vehicular accidents include horses, cows, bulls, moose, bears, dogs, cats and opossums. In New Jersey there are about 1,000 deer/vehicle crashes per year, according to the state Department of Transportation. In Sussex County, drivers have been injured when their vehicles crashed with deer, but no fatalities have occurred in recent years. Area body shops indicate that they see a steady flow of deer-related damages all year. Repairs range from minor touch-ups to extensive, and expensive, overhauls. MaryAnn Denmead of Budd Lake paid over $1,200 to repair damages nearly three years ago. "I was traveling eastbound on Route 46 and a deer jumped off an embankment into, and onto my car. I was dumbstruck," recalled Denmead. "Next day I rode in the area and there was a deer dead on the other side of the road, so I guess he made it that far, across four lanes of traffic. My husband and kids gave me a cell phone that Christmas to use for emergencies." And Harry Dircks of Budd Lake has had the misfortune of two deer accidents over the past few years, in two different New Jersey counties. At dusk a couple years ago, Dircks was the second vehicle to encounter a deer on Route 206 near Chester. "A car traveling the other direction hit the deer first, then I hit (it) with the side of my car. Only minor dents, and a light needed replacing." In his second encounter with a deer, Dircks was not as lucky. About a year and a half ago, at approximately 10 p.m. while traveling in Warren County, Dircks had a head-on collision with a deer. "I made a quick decision to hit him straight on rather than drive off the road. I survived, but the deer didn't and it cost over $2,000 to repair my vehicle that time. I dragged the deer off the road so no one else would hit it." Only half of all injuries in animal-motor vehicle crashes result from a collision with the animal. The other half result from the driver trying to avoid hitting the animal resulting in the vehicle rolling over, going off the road, or colliding with another vehicle or object.