Motorists warned as vehicle-deer collisions rise

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses.

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses. FILE PHOTO

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses.

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses. FILE PHOTO

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses.

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses.

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Franklin County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Hampshire County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses.

Deer-vehicle collisions have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, including Hampshire County, over the past decade, and local body shop technicians said they are bracing for an increase in incidents as autumn progresses. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 11-12-2023 3:29 PM

With deer activity peaking as they move into their breeding season, officials are warning motorists to be careful to avoid colliding with the wandering ruminants, particularly during the evening commute.

Vehicle-deer collisions in Massachusetts are increasing year by year, according to AAA Northeast, which pulls data from the state’s impact crash portal. There were 1,806 such collisions across the state from October to December 2022, surpassing the record set the previous year for the most crashes with deer in at least the past 20 years.

The bulk of deer collisions are seen in southeastern Massachusetts, but Hampshire County is far from immune. Town-by-town data from AAA show Hatfield, with 22, topped the list of Hampshire County town’s for vehicle-deer collisions in 2022. Amherst was second with 17 and Northampton third with 14.

So far this year, Deerfield has had 13 deer collisions, Northampton 12 and Amherst 11. Countywide, there have been 75 vehicle-deer collisions already this year.

Long-term, the trend is upward, though 2018 was the worst year for the county, with 167, surpassing last year’s total of 151. Over the past 20 years, Northampton, Granby and Belchertown have been the scene of the most collisions.

The total of crashes reported in Hampshire County doubled from 2002 to 2010, and doubled again from 2010 to 2017. Last year’s total was double the total in 2014.

The number of collisions spikes every year in October and November with mating season, when bucks’ inhibitions are lowered. The state’s increasing deer population is most likely a key factor in the growing number of collisions.

MassWildlife estimates that there are more than 100,000 deer across the state, creating a population density of more than 50 per square mile of forest in many areas. In a bid to keep the population down to what it considers a healthy level, the state agency has loosened deer hunting regulations to permit unlimited killing of female deer in certain areas, and to permit hunters to donate surplus venison to people in need.

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Along with the growing deer population, suburban sprawl and development continue to encroach on the deer’s habitat.

“Deer crashes can occur quickly and in unexpected locations,” said Mark Schieldrop, spokesman for AAA Northeast, in a statement. “Drivers need to be especially vigilant this time of year.”

The peak time of day for vehicle-deer incidents is 5 to 7 p.m.

Kevin LaBelle, owner of Kevin’s Auto Body & Sales in Greenfield, said his small business fixes between one and 10 vehicles each year that were involved in collisions with deer.

LaBelle said that in his experience, vehicles that strike a deer typically need repairs to the headlights, fenders and radiators. He advises that anyone who hits a deer should call their insurance company as soon as possible.

MassWildlife also recommends that deer- and moose-vehicle collisions be reported to the Environmental Police at 1-800-632-8075. In the event of a collision, the driver or passengers of the vehicle involved (Massachusetts residents only) may salvage the deer by bringing it to a MassWildlife office to be officially tagged.

AAA encourages drivers to:

■scan the shoulders of the road ahead;

■follow the speed limit;

■be careful rounding curves and cresting hills.

One deer by the roadside likely means there are others around. If a collision is unavoidable, brake firmly and try to remain in your lane and avoid other vehicles.