Deer can spell real danger for eastern North Carolina drivers, according to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. Donald Reinfurt, deputy director of the Center, says data detailing the 219,000 automobile accidents in North Carolina in 1994 show that between eight and nine thousand accidents involved collisions with deer, mostly in the coastal regions during the fall hunting season.

Reinfurt measured the frequency of collisions involving deer against all collisions in each county.

Allegheny, Beaufort, Caswell, Chatham, Chowan, Greene, Hyde, Jones, Martin, Montgomery, Tyrrell, and Washington counties had the state’s highest ratios of deer collisions to other car accidents. Those counties had more than five times the state’s average percentage of deer accidents per total collisions.

Reinfurt and graduate student Kimberly Boomer ran computer evaluations of the narrative records of all North Carolina motor vehicle collisions, looking for the word “deer” in police officers’ descriptions of the accidents. They found that deer collisions accounted for at least four percent of all collisions. And that number is a conservative estimate.

Reinfurt said the results of the analysis left him “extraordinarily surprised” at the number of deer causing accidents on North Carolina roads.

The likelihood of colliding with a deer rises dramatically at night, Reinfurt says, and the danger is worst on rural roads. By far the greatest ratio of deer-involved crashes occur on the Coastal Plain. And October through December, hunting season, is the worst time of year. Deer startled by gunshots are likely to dart out across the road before a motorist has time to react.

Typically, the deer is frightened,” Reinfurt says. “Most often the deer is trying to escape, and before it realizes there’s a vehicle or the vehicle realizes the deer is coming, there’s a collision.”

There’s not much you can do to react to a deer running across in front of you,” Reinfurt says. “It all happens so quickly.”

Media inquiries, Reinfurt says, led to the study. “Every year we get approached by the news media during deer season. Various counties think they’ve had a rush of deer accidents.” Until recently, he says, the Center had no way of telling county officials whether or not they were assuming correctly.

Accidents involving deer are typically less serious than those involving another car. Only about eight percent of collisions with deer cause harm to the automobile occupants, Reinfurt says, as opposed to the 40 percent of motor vehicle collisions that result in injured passengers. Reinfurt says “the deer is the one that usually takes the brunt of it.”

Marissa Melton was formerly a staff writer for Endeavors.