We are in that glorious time of year when roadside trees are lush with fresh greenery, bluebell woods are a carpet of blue, and a little thought-of road safety hazard is heading into its busy season. What I’m referring to is wild animals in the road, and in particular the risk of collisions with roaming deer.
There are six species of deer living wild in the UK, and their numbers have more than doubled since the millennium, with some two million reckoned to be loose across the countryside. Although they are most relatively shy creatures who are wary of humans, they are not known for their road sense. Reading the Highway Code was not part of their upbringing. So when a country road happens to be in the way of their progress between feeding sites, they’ll simply dash across it without the precaution of looking left and right.
As a result, deer entanglements with vehicles are by no means rare, said to be around some 74,000 collisions annually. It’s a serious problem, causing several human fatalities and up to 700 people injured in a typical year. Unsurprisingly, the deer come off even worse.
Perhaps we should be grateful that this isn’t Sweden, where around one in five road accidents involves collision with a reindeer or elk – and the latter is a very big and solid animal which can cause devastating damage to a fast-moving car. Not that the largest of our native deer are much smaller. A red deer stag can weigh as much as 200 lbs, around 90 kg, which is a lot of bone and muscle to impale itself against a small family hatchback.
Don’t assume that if you happen to live in the suburban south-east of the country, you’re safe from this seemingly mostly rural risk. Remarkably, around a quarter of deer collisions happen inside a 50-miles radius of central London. There are a number of black spots for such incidents within the M25.
It is also worth bearing in mind that deer are herd animals, so if one is in the vicinity, there will most likely be others around too. A friend driving near Sevenoaks in Kent had a scare when a deer came leaping over the roadside hedge right in front of him. With quick reactions he braked hard and narrowly missed hitting it, and was just thanking his luck and about to drive off again when a second deer crash-landed on his car bonnet. Result: one dead deer, one damaged car, one luckily uninjured but severely shocked driver.
Spring is a prime time for deer collisions, when the abundant rush of new vegetation makes them harder to spot as they dash through the undergrowth towards the road you’re on. Throughout the summer is a similarly risky time, and the danger peaks in the autumn, when deer activity is busy in the mating season.
Times to be especially alert are when driving at dawn or dusk, with the low light making a moving deer harder to spot. Night-time is obviously risky for deer encounters too, especially if you have a heavy right foot on a country lane. Just remember, when you’re enjoying a quick drive on a twisty road, Bambi’s family may be just around the next corner