Archive for Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Shouts and Murmurs

Lively deer call for driver caution

November 28, 2001

It's that time of year again, with the deer falling headlong into their mating season, running madly over hill and dell in search of romance. Were it not for roadway traffic, their stories would have happy endings.

But in the year 2000 alone, some 9,537 Kansas bucks and does stood, walked or ran into the paths of approaching vehicles. Drivers of vehicles, and their passengers, didn't fare so well either, with a reported 379 injuries and one fatality.

Experts say that although some car-deer accidents are unavoidable, there are tips that might help drivers avoid hitting deer.

First of all, there are deer whistles and the often-pitched question: Do they help?

Apparently, the Leavenworth County Sheriffs Department thinks so. All of the county's patrol cars are equipped with deer whistles, said Sgt. John Kirby.

"We put them on our cars several years ago," Kirby said.

Prior to that, he said, patrol officers were hitting one or two deer a year.

"After we put the deer whistles on, we hit probably one deer every two or three years," Kirby said. "It seemed like it made a dramatic difference."

Kirby said he now uses deer whistles on his personal vehicles, buying them for as low as $5 a pair at discount stores.

Kansas Highway Patrol spokes-man, Second Lt. John Eichkorn, said KHP has discontinued its policy of installing deer whistles on patrol cars.

"Our agency had looked at some studies that were conducted on the effectiveness of the deer whistle, and we found that the evidence was not there to support that they truly did work," Eichkorn said.

"That, combined with the fact that we were still hitting deer in cars equipped with deer whistles, brought about the decision to cease putting them on new cars."

Second Lt. Mark Bruce, another KHP spokesman, said it had been about 10 years since the highway patrol installed deer whistles on new patrol cars.

The highway patrol officers travel a total of about 12 million miles a year. In the year 2000, KHP officers were involved in only nine car-deer accidents, Bruce said.

Charlie Lee, extension wildlife specialist with Kansas State University, doesn't use deer whistles on his vehicles.

"They're not effective," Lee said.

However, Lee said they don't hurt anything, they're inexpensive and their presence on a vehicle may raise a driver's awareness level, increasing the tendency to be on the lookout for deer.

"The studies have shown that those whistles don't make that ultrasonic sound in their operating condition," Lee said. "They may at the factory, but not when competing with the sound of vehicles. Also, they don't work when they're plugged up with insects."

Whether with or without deer whistles, Lee advises drivers to be cautious this time of year.

"Slow down," he said, "Particularly at night."

He also encourages drivers to stop using cruise control.

"It might make that split second of a difference in slowing down," he said.

Further, Lee, and Eichkorn said drivers should not swerve to avoid hitting a deer.

"If there's one in the road, safety records indicate there's less danger in hitting the deer than in trying to avoid it and running off the road," Lee said.

Eichkorn added that swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic to avoid a deer could result in a deadly head-on collision.

Lee completed his advice by saying drivers should pay attention to "deer crossing signs."

"Those road signs are put out there for a reason," Lee said. "Deer don't read them, so they must be for people."

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