Friday, February 16, 2007

CALIFORNIA NEWS: Collisions with deer cause millions in damage claims

By Denis Cuff, MEDIANEWS STAFF 02/16/2007 02:31:24 AM PST

Pat Dupler likes to admire the wild deer in the East Bay hills, but she also has learned to fear them as potential unguided missiles that blast into the path of moving cars. Dupler has collided three times with deer at night, twice in Contra Costa County and once in the Sierra foothills. The collisions did not injure her, but rattled her and caused several thousands of dollars in car damage.

"I'm a careful driver," said Dupler, a retired Martinez nurse who drives a Volvo sedan. "I had no time to avoid these accidents. Once, I didn't even see the animal until it hit my side window and its face pushed against my windshield. It was horrible."

Bambi, a kindly friend in the forest, can become the nightmare of the highway in the East Bay and other places in deer country. Nationally, deer collisions with cars annually cause some $1.1 billion in vehicle damage, kill 150 people and injure 29,000 others, according to estimates by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The collision rate is going up as more homes are built in woodsy deer habitat, experts say. Collision risks escalate during the deer rutting season, which is in the late fall and early winter. In the East Bay, though, the risk is year-round.

California was rated 26th out of 50 states for deer collision claims last year, trailing states with larger deer herds, according to a survey of State Farm Insurance customers. But the toll in California is still significant, police accident records show. Vehicle collisions with animals in California killed five people, injured 431 others and damaged 15,750 vehicles between 1996 and 2005, according to records compiled by the California Highway Patrol.

Safety and wildlife experts have no easy solutions to prevent crashes between cars and deer. Giving birth control chemicals to deer is expensive and difficult. In the 1990s, the East Bay Regional Park District determined in a pilot project that it cost $2,000 to $3,000 annually to give birth control chemicals to each doe at a Fremont park.