All throughout rural parts of our listening area, motorists are probably noticing an increased number of dead deer on the side of the road. Deer movement peaks in late October, lasting into December. WKU Public Radio recently met a Hardin County man who got a very up-close look at the impact of Kentucky’s increasing deer-crossings.
Randy Herman was leaving his job in Bullitt County around 7:30pm on a recent Monday night. He got in his car and drove about 200 yards on Highway 62 in Lebanon Junction when he noticed something.
“There was a car coming the other way, and I saw the deer in the other car’s headlights for just a brief second,” remembers Herman. “All I saw was legs, really. And then it disappeared. And apparently it was jumping, running, and trying to get out of the way. And my car caught it in the air.”
Herman guesses he was probably going about 40 to 45 miles an hour when the deer hit his windshield. Still, the force of the impact was strong enough to cut the animal in half.
“The back half went down the outside of the car, and the front half came through the windshield. It actually hit across part of the roof, where the roof touches the top of the windshield, and it came through the car. And on its way through, it hit me in the face and ended up in the backseat.”
As Herman remembers the accident two weeks later, the left side of his face is still swollen, and his left eye is three-quarters red. Herman sustained a fractured orbital bone, broken cheekbone, and damaged sinus cavity. Amazingly, his vision was not affected, despite the glass and deer parts that blew through his vehicle. Herman managed to drive himself back to his workplace, where some coworkers called an ambulance for him.
Variations of this story are playing out all over our listening area, as whitetail deer are preparing to hit their peak mating season.
“Deer season begins November 10, and motorists are more likely to encounter these animals on or near our roadways,” says Trooper Jonathan Biven, the public affairs office with the Kentucky State Police Bowling Green post. “Last year we had almost 3,000 deer-related collisions in Kentucky, with three of those collisions resulting in fatalities.”
Biven says motorists should especially be aware of deer crossing roads at dusk and dawn, when the animals are often feeding, and bucks are beginning to follow or chase does. Unfortunately, there’s no fool-proof advice for what a driver should do if he or she spots a deer coming on to the roadway. Trooper Jonathan Biven says the best thing he can offer is what Kentucky State Police troopers are taught to do if they encounter a deer while driving.
“If you see one, immediately slow down. Do not swerve, because that can actually confuse the deer about where to run. It could also cause you to lose control of your vehicle and possibly hit a tree or another car.”
Biven says he understands swerving to avoid an oncoming object is a human’s natural reaction.
“Believe it or not, it’s generally safer for you to hit the deer, rather than running off the roadway or risking injury to other motorists,” he says.
According to Biven, you’re not advised to honk your horn or flash high-beams at the deer. Those actions are intended to scare the deer away from the road, but they could just as easily make the animal run faster into your pathway.
Back in Elizabethtown, it’s hard to look at Randy Herman and say he was “lucky.” But in at least one sense, he really was lucky the night he ran into that deer in Bullitt County. By not knowing he was about to hit the animal, Herman didn’t swerve into the car that was approaching him in the oncoming lane—something that could have led to far worse injuries. Despite having part the animal crash through his windshield and essentially break the left half of his face, Herman was able to put on the brakes and move into the emergency lane without striking the guardrail.
Herman was also fortunate that the animal he hit weighed about 80 pounds. He says he works with hunters who encounter deer that are often more than double that size.
“They talk all the time about how when they get a big deer, it’s 150 pounds or so. And you see them on the side of the interstate all the time. On my way back home last night I was on the interstate, and there a great big doe near the side of the road, and it had to be every bit 180 pounds,” says Herman.
Randy Herman’s case is just one of an estimated 1,509 deer-related crashes and 75 injuries reported in Kentucky as of October 15. Unfortunately, November is the month with the most deer-related vehicle crashes in Kentucky. Last year, there were 800 such cases in Kentucky, more than double the number in October.
This wasn't Herman's first close encounter with a deer on the roadway. He says ten years ago, on the same stretch of road where his most recent accident happened, a deer ran into the side of his car.
Herman says unlike the second time, the first deer got up and ran away.