The Associated Press
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Collisions between automobiles and deer are on the decline in Indiana, a trend experts say could be driven by changes in hunting rules and by motorists' growing diligence in avoiding deer.
Indiana had 15,205 deer-related collisions in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, The Journal Gazette reported Saturday. That's down from just less than 16,000 collisions in 2010 and more than 16,800 in 2009, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
State Farm Insurance's annual survey of car-deer collisions shows that the likelihood of such a collision declined 23 percent in Indiana between 2011-12 and 2012-13. The company's survey, released last month, examined deer-vehicle crash claims filed by State Farm drivers and then extrapolated those numbers to include all insured drivers.
Indiana ranked 27th in the nation in last year's survey, but it now ranks 33rd, with drivers having a 1-in-218 chance of hitting a deer, the survey found.
"It's hard to speculate, but we do think part of it is raised awareness," State Farm spokeswoman Missy Dundov said of the decrease. "We've been doing this for 11 years, and in our eyes, the awareness we've brought to the topic is making drivers drive safer," she told the newspaper.
Another reason for the decrease could be a change in hunting regulations for white-tailed deer.
Under the rules that took effect in 2010, hunters in some urban areas were allowed to begin hunting a few weeks before the official start of the season.
The state Department of Natural Resources said that change was intended to target parts of Indiana where deer densities were greater than desired.
"Some of those changes have been aimed for urban areas where a deer's biggest threat is a vehicle bumper," Phil Bloom, spokesman for the DNR, said via email. "Although we have yet to fully realize the full impacts of these rule changes, a reduction in deer-vehicle collisions is a positive trend we hope continues."
In Indiana, nearly half of all vehicle accidents involving deer occur between October and December, the DNR says. That period includes the fall harvest, which coincides with deer mating season. Deer are most active between sunset and sunrise.
State Police and the DNR urge motorists to slow down significantly if they see a deer, even if it is far away, because deer often travel in groups. Motorists should use high-beam lights when there is no opposing traffic to scan for deer's illuminated eyes or dark silhouettes.
Motorists should use particular caution along forest edges, hills or blind turns. And following a collision with a deer, they should stay in their vehicle, check to make sure passengers are safe, and then call police. Motorists should not approach the deer because a frightened or wounded deer can inflict bodily injury.
"Despite their gentle nature, their hooves are sharp and powerful and can be extremely dangerous," Chad Stewart, a deer research specialist with the DNR, said in a statement.