Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of damaged car © Audrey Polichnia

This was my most damaging collision.
© Audrey Polichnia

February 2011

Strike force

Accidents with deer leave a lasting impression.

Audrey Polichnia

I hit a deer with my car in early March; it wasn't my first deer hit, or my second, but in eleven years of driving through Shawano and Waupaca counties this was my most damaging collision. When the officer arrived at the scene north of Ogdensburg, he walked around my car with a flashlight. The grill was punched in, the hood was bruised, and fur rimmed the broken headlights on the passenger's side like an eyebrow. Fluids dripped underneath. The officer made a few notes and confessed that his cruiser was only a couple of days on the road again after a similar event.

I remembered a few years earlier when a sheriff's car was in for repairs in the shop bay next to mine.

"Deer hit too," the mechanic told me. "They just have no respect."

There are an estimated 55 deer per square mile in the area where I most often drive, and even though the car-deer crashes are down from well over 2,000 reported here in 2004, there is still nothing appealing about sharing a bad experience this year with more than 900 other drivers!

Vehicle/deer crashes by the numbers*

Total reported crashes annually: 15,821
Includes 10 fatalities and 99 incapacitating injuries to people

Highest number of reported crashes:
Dane County 837
Waukesha County 683
St. Croix County 575
Shawano County 575

Peak crash seasons and times:

  • Dawn and dusk in fall and spring
  • October-November 5-7 a.m., 5 p.m. to midnight
  • May-June 5-7 a.m., 8 p.m. to midnight

91% of deer crashes occur in rural areas

Percent of all crashes involving deer from 1996-2008 averages 15.1%

*Compiled from the most recent crash statistics reported for 2008 to the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation by law enforcement officers and summaries from the Division of Motor Vehicles Accident Database. Crashes self-reported by drivers and crashes caused by drivers avoiding deer are not included in these figures.

Not all of them are "repeat offenders" like me. Why was I honored with such a high rate of participation in this unwilling event? After two sleepless nights, I still don't know. Like so many other drivers, I had not hit the deer head-on, rather I'd been ambushed. When deer are on the move they bound from the woods like cheetahs that are late for lunch. They hurtle down embankments like Jim Craig's horse in that film "The Man from Snowy River." They leap ditches like Evel Knievel's motorcycles.

Given my recent history and thinking about the motorcycle season, I decided I didn't want to test my luck with deer while I was on two wheels. I listed my mint-condition classic motorbike for sale and it was gone in just two days. I'd had eight years of pure enjoyment on it and sold it for slightly more than I'd paid. If the young man who bought it takes care of the bike, he won't lose a dime on it either.

The next day I watched as my battered car was winched onto a flatbed and taken away for repairs. We had just bought the car a couple months earlier and it had been a hard shop with a lot of negotiation; not between us and the dealer, but between me and my husband. I wanted a small truck good for hauling groceries and the occasional sheet of drywall. My husband wanted a $500 clunker for going to work. We'd settled on this little white wagon with a sunroof and separate wipers over the headlights. It was cute, but probably not really functional in icy weather. The car was 10 years old but looked like new. The liftgate stayed up while you reached inside and the back seats folded down. I could haul a ton of groceries or a few two-by- fours, but probably not drywall. Now we were back to one vehicle and I was driving my husband to and from work in that older car. He talked again about buying a smaller, older truck so our "better" vehicle would not be sharing the road with deer at dusk and dawn.

A few days later my husband was dusting off his motorcycle and changing the oil. He assured me that having me as a passenger wouldn't be a problem…for him! Then we went to the cycle shop and this chromed-out red Suzuki with black saddle bags started whispering to me and luring me in closer. I ran my fingers along the handlebars and across the gas tank. Then, as the Bible instructs, I fled temptation.

My car is back from the shop now, thank you insurance company! We're still keeping the other older car and I believe that means other smaller house chores will outrank the drywall project for another year. However, I've added another prayer to my daily list:

Now I slide into my car and pray
"Lord, keep the deer far away."
For if I tag another,
My insurance may not cover.

Audrey Polichnia writes from Manawa.

Motorcyclists: Remain especially alert

Seventy-three percent of motorcycle-deer crashes resulted in a fatality or injury to a motorcyclist. Seven of the 10 motor vehicle/deer crash fatalities reported in 2008 killed motorcyclists. Only 3.3% of passenger cars and 1.6% of utility trucks involved in deer crashes resulted in a fatality or injury to an occupant.