When you tell people you hit a deer while driving, you find out everyone has their own story. One of my brothers hit a deer he never saw while driving a truck in western New York State (he was checking a mirror when the animal ventured onto the roadway; his passenger explained what the loud bang had been). My other brother was driving behind a pickup that hit a large buck; the animal smashed into the truck’s windshield and the antlers penetrated the glass. My sister’s best friend hit a deer. A coworker of my daughter-in-law hit one on a Bay Area freeway, and the deer came clear through the windshield.
A 1995 study for The Wildlife Society crunched some numbers from earlier studies and came up with an annual estimate of as many as 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions nationwide. Since then, researchers have even come up with a shorthand term for this phenomenon: DVC. The study was titled “Review of human injuries, illnesses, and economic losses caused by wildlife in the United States,” and the deer-vehicle issue was just part of the overall picture. The study considered everything from Lyme disease to bird-aircraft strikes to wildlife damage to farming and ranching and tried to tote up the cost.
For deer-vehicle collisions, the estimated cost was huge: About 200 deaths, 29.000 injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. The study also notes: “Being hit by a vehicle is fatal to deer about 92 percent of the time. These deaths can represent economic loss that we could not estimate.” (A current estimate of overall wildlife-vehicle collisions–crashes involving “large mammals”–puts the annual number at 1 million to 2 million and direct economic losses at $6 billion to $12 billion a year.)
That 1995 report and similar studies prompted researchers at several universities to try to undertake a more systematic way of assessing the million or more crashes happening on the highways every year. One result is the Deer-Vehicle Collision Information and Research Center (you can find it at deercrash.org), which has put some harder numbers to some aspects of the issue. For instance, the DVCIR Center breaks down the number of (human) fatalities in animal-vehicle collisions from 1994 through 2007. The highest death toll was in 2007, with 223 people killed nationwide (second place was 2006, with 222 deaths). The total killed nationwide in that 14-year period: 2,398. Texas led the country in motorist fatalities in animal-vehicle collisions in 12 of those 14 years.
The collision research has also led to testing of a Roadkill Observation Collection System (ROCS), a networked handheld device with GPS that would allow road crews and others to document locations and circumstances of carcasses found on roads and ditches and upload their reports to a centralized database.
And that brings me back to the ditch along that twilight section of Nebraska Route 12 we were traveling last night when we struck a deer. Nebraska recorded 41,028 deer-vehcile collisions from 1998 through 2008 (Dixon County, where we were last night, recorded 215 of those incidents). The Deer-Vehicle Collision Information and Research Center puts the number of Nebraska fatalities at 20 from 1998 through 2007 (and 29 from ’94-’07).
Lastt: Here’s an unsentimental (and unendorsed) view of all this from Reason magazine, that bastion of libertarianism: North America’s Most Dangerous Mammal.