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Controlling your risk by Bob Carruth

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management.  For archives of this column click here

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Dec 08

It’s as Easy as 1-2-3

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 9:52 AM by Chris Baucom

It’s that time of year again. Yes, love is in the air for the young bucks, bears and other wild animals that populate the woods and fields of North Carolina. Normally, we think of Spring as being the season of romance, but for our four legged friends, it is Fall. It is not a coincidence that most hunting seasons are scheduled in the Fall – it is the time of year when wildlife is most active. 

What does the love life of a deer have to do with safety and risk management? 
Plenty.

Since 1999, the most prevalent cause of property damage to our county vehicles has come from hitting animals that wander into the path of a county-owned vehicle. Most of the time these are deer. However, we have also seen bird strikes, and even a couple of bears have added to the stats. Most affected by these incidents are our law enforcement and other public safety vehicles. These personnel operate pretty much around the clock and often find themselves in more isolated areas vs. city driving (although I did witness a deer running across traffic into a car in mid-town Raleigh a few months ago). 

Our loss stats show that the most common time of year for the strikes is from October – January, which also happens to coincide with deer season and the prime mating time for deer. Although not included in our loss data, some other facts concerning deer movement during this time of year should be noted:

Deer are most active during the hours immediately before and after dawn and dusk. 
Deer will often move in packs – mainly does and fawns, but these may also include bucks. If you see one, there is probably another lurking right behind. 
Deer will normally congregate around water and food sources – river bottoms and farmland are the most common areas. In fact, by looking at the 2010 deer population density from the NC Division of Wildlife at www.ncwildlife.org/wildlife_species_con/Deer/DeerDensityMap_2010.pdf, you can see how dense your county deer population is.
Deer are generally thought to move more when the humidity or rain is present, although heavy downpours discourage movement.

So, what precautions do we need to follow?

1. Practice Situational Awareness. This is true at all times while driving, but especially true during the danger times noted above, or when traveling through open farmland or near river or creek bottoms. This includes continually scanning in a 60 degree zone in front of your vehicle – from wood line to wood line, or from fence to fence. Also, expand your look-ahead zone – try to look as far out as possible. Often, you may see a deer in time avoid it.

2. Slow Down. This is the next logical step. A car traveling at 60 MPH is moving at 88 feet per second. For 99 percent of all drivers, it takes about 2 seconds just to perceive and react to the danger and another two to three seconds to stop. In this time, the car will travel further than the length of a football field. That means that you will be unable to react to anything that occurs in that zone directly in front of you. If you driver faster, this zone gets longer, but if you drive slower, it shortens. Driving 5-10 miles per hour less during the danger times or in danger areas will allow you to increase your reaction distance and perhaps avoid a crash with a deer.
 
3. Use your horn. When you see a deer, slow down even more and start blowing your horn. Proceed slower until you pass, or the deer darts off. Noises will scare them off. Try not to flash your headlights at them, especially at night. This will only cause them to freeze, only to dart in front of you at the last moment.

4. Don’t swerve. Although your instincts may tell you to swerve, don’t. If you swerve, especially at highway speeds, you are going one of two directions – off the road, or into the other lane. Neither one of these is worth it. Yes, your car may be damaged and there is a chance you will be injured, but the chances of injury or death are much greater than if you leave your lane. Again, if you have practiced good situational awareness and have slowed down, you can more easily react to any incident that occurs. 

5. Install grill guards. Although grill guards may not prevent a deer strike, they will lessen the impact of a deer collision. The average cost to repair a vehicle after a deer strike is $2,500. This figure includes many fenders, front grills and radiators. By installing the guards, you may be replacing headlights instead, which will greatly lower your repair costs. 

All of these precautions can be remembered by counting to three:

1 -- Hour
2 -- Times a Day (Dawn and Dusk)
3 – Months a Year – October through December

During this time each year, make it a point to slow down and use extra caution when traveling during this time. By remembering these few tips, hopefully you will make it through this deer season with few incidents. Safe driving out there!