On The Road, Again
Why did the chicken cross the road? To show the deer it could be done!
Number One, With a Bumper
Where do drivers have the highest odds of hitting a deer with their vehicles? According to data from the State Farm Insurance Company, it’s West Virginia, where a driver’s chances of hitting a whitetail in the next 12 months are one in 57.
Coming in at number two is Michigan, where the likelihood of a specific vehicle striking a deer in next year is 1 in 86. Rounding out the top five are Wisconsin at 1 in 99; Pennsylvania with 1 in 100; and Iowa, 1 in 109.
Rounding out the top the top ten are Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.
The state where motorists are least likely to smack a deer is Hawaii.
If you think like a racing handicapper, State Farm notes that West Virginia’s 1-in-57 odds are nearly three times higher than your possibility of being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, and 5,000 times higher than your likelihood of being struck by lightning in the next 12 months.
Further, the insurance company’s data indicates the total number of deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. has increased 6.3 percent in the last year. The average property damage cost of these incidents was just under $2,900, up 3 percent from a year ago.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are approximately 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions annually, causing more than 150 fatalities and $1.1 billion in property damage.
Study: 93% of Hoosier Roadkill is Amphibian
When you think about roadkill, probably the first animal that comes to mind is the whitetail deer, right? It’s certainly the most visible to many driving Americans, and it’s the animal those of us in the nation’s heartland are most fearful of engaging with our car’s front bumper.
After deer, depending on the part of country you inhabit, the next critters you may consider as popular roadside attractions are the opossum or armadillo, those often-squashed fatalities of both Interstate and backroad.
But a 16-month scientific study performed by researchers at Purdue University in Indiana found that the most numerous victims of Firestones and Michelins are not slow-moving or headlight-mesmerized mammals—not by a long shot. Rather surprisingly, appearing atop the roadkill carte du jour by a wide, 93-percent margin are amphibians.
The study findings are published in a recent issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology.
Collecting data from four different Hoosier roadways, the researchers found that amphibians comprised 10,515 of the total body count. The most common species was the bullfrog, with 1,671 killed. Coming in a distant fourth—trailing the green frog (172), tiger salamander (142) and American toad (111)--was the Virginia (common) opossum at a mere 79.
Rounding out our Offbeat Outdoors “Roadkill Top Ten” is the leopard frog at 74; raccoon, 43; deer mouse, 39; cottontail rabbit, 37; chimney swift, 36 and garter snake at 35.
Only four whitetail were among the Indiana blacktop victims, placing venison significantly behind frog legs on the carrion buffet.
It should be noted that all the study areas in the Boilermaker research project were near or adjacent to wetlands, which to some degree helps explain the abundance of bullfrogs.
Researchers also noted that due to “carcass degradation” (which, in layman’s terms means flat, moldy and chewed on by crows and buzzards), many of the animals were unidentifiable.
Two Decades of Deductible Deer
One can only imagine what Mark Burdick’s insurance agent thinks this time of year when she receives a call from the Wellsboro, New York driver and auto policyholder.
That’s because Burdick has a lot of experience whacking whitetail with a motor vehicle in the past two decades.
How many? Five or six? A dozen?
Deer-slayer Burdick has put a total of 21 ungulates on the pavement since he was first issued his Empire State operator’s license 19 years ago.
He’s recorded one triple-bill and has left roadkill behind for highway crews to remove in four different states.
“I have hit them in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and Tennessee,” Burdick told the Elmira/Corning Star-Gazette. “I guess I just have a knack for it.”
And while every crash has proved fatal for the critters meeting the business end of his bumper, Burdick has received nary a scratch.
“I have hit them with everything from personal vehicles to military vehicles,” he said. “I even tagged one with a fire truck.”
Burdick attributes his providence for deer-smacking to his nocturnal commute. The 911 dispatcher works the graveyard shift at the Tioga County Communications Center in Wellsboro, and the highway along his 25-mile drive to work is, well, darned-good deer habitat.
His worst crash—even nastier than his triple-header two years ago—involved a massive 10-point buck and his former 1995 Dodge Avenger.
“It popped the airbags,” he said. “It went up on the hood. Back onto the roof and then the trunk. It damaged the front end, the roof, the trunk. I don’t think there was anything that wasn’t dented. That was…close to $7,000. That deer was huge.”
As the deer rutting season begins in earnest in coming weeks, Burdick offered suggestions for drivers who encounter deer on the roadways.
“Don’t swerve. Don’t go off the road to miss a deer. It’s much better to hit a deer than to hit a tree or another vehicle. But…it depends on what you’re driving,” said the man who now wisely owns a pickup fitted with a heavy-duty grill guard.
And another thing: locate a compassionate and understanding insurance agent.
“I have a local agent, and I thought I was setting some kind of record, but she told me that some people have hit even more deer than I have,” Burdick says.