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Effectiveness in Disease and Injury Prevention Injuries from Motor-Vehicle Collisions with Deer -- Kentucky, 1987-1989

Motor-vehicle collisions involving animals can result in both personal injury and property damage. In the United States, deer are a common hazard to motor vehicles and their occupants (1). This report, based on police records submitted to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet from 1987 through 1989, characterizes motor- vehicle collisions with deer in Kentucky.

During the 3-year period, 11,648 persons were involved in 6813 motor-vehicle collisions with deer in Kentucky. Police records indicated that 356 (3%) of these persons were injured. An average of 2271 collisions with deer occurred per year, representing 59 collisions per 100,000 persons in Kentucky and seven collisions per 100 million miles driven. During the same period, conservation officers in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reported an annual average of 4209 deer killed by motor-vehicle collisions in the state--approximately 1% of the total herd of 350,000.

Most motor-vehicle collisions involving deer occurred on roads with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour or higher (89%), in rural areas (86%), and on roads with one or two lanes (72%). In rural areas, 11 motor-vehicle collisions with deer occurred per 100 million miles driven; in urban areas, two such collisions occurred per 100 million miles driven. Forty-five percent of the collisions occurred during October-December (Figure 1). Weather conditions were clear in 71% of the collisions. Most (70%) occurred at night; of these, 94% were on unlighted roads. Fewer than 3% of reported crashes were attributed to unsafe operation of the vehicle (e.g., speeding) or defects in the vehicle itself (e.g., defective brakes), and fewer than 1% involved multiple vehicles. The number of drivers reported as intoxicated was too small for meaningful analysis.

Common sites of human trauma involved the head, face, or neck (43%). Although no human deaths were reported, 12% of injuries were classified by the attending police officer as incapacitating (i.e., a nonfatal injury that prevented normal activities and generally required hospitalization). Factors associated with injury included failure to use safety belts (rate ratio (RR)=1.9; 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.5-2.4), collision while riding a motorcycle (RR=18.1; 95% CI=12.3-23.4), collision on a one- or two-lane road (RR=1.7; 95% CI=1.3-2.3), and collision during daylight (RR=1.4; 95% CI=1.1-1.8). The risk for injury was not associated with rural setting, month of occurrence, weather conditions, or posted speed limits of 55 miles per hour or higher. Reported by: B Sigler, Dept of Highways, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet; J Phillips, Dept of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Tourism Cabinet; K Agent, MS, J Pigman, MS, L Wayne, MS, Kentucky Transportation Center, Univ of Kentucky, Lexington; R Adams, G Rice, MPA, M Stapleton, MSPH, B Yandell, PhD, R Finger, MD, State Epidemiologist, Dept for Health Svcs, Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources. Unintentional Injuries Section, Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Control, National Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control; Div of Field Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The seasonal increase in the number of motor-vehicle collisions with deer is not directly attributable to an increase in vehicle-miles traveled. The increased number of collisions during the fourth quarter of the year may be associated with increased deer migration due to the mating and hunting seasons and changing food supplies (2,3). The number of vehicle-miles traveled, however, does not appear to account for this increase in Kentucky because peaks in miles driven occur during July and August (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, unpublished data).

Overall, the number of collisions may be greater than police reports indicate (3), as suggested by findings in Kentucky that the number of reported collisions accounted for only 54% of deer killed by motor-vehicle collisions. In Kentucky, reporting of collisions with deer is legally required if property damage exceeds $200 or the driver wishes to keep the dead animal; however, collisions are more likely to be reported when insurance is claimed for vehicular damage or personal injury.

Measures that have been used to prevent motor-vehicle collisions with deer include the following: warning signs, speed restrictions, fencing, underpasses for animals, roadside mirrors and reflectors (to deflect headlight beams toward the sides of the road to alert the deer), and reduction in deer populations through recreational hunting (2,4-7). However, until such measures are demonstrated to be effective, injury control will depend on increased use of safety belts and such design features as antilacerative windshields to protect motor-vehicle occupants (8).


  1. Joselyn GB. Wildlife--an essential consideration determining future highway roadside maintenance policy. Highway Research Record 1969;280:1-14.

  2. Arnold DA. Deer on the highway. Traffic Safety 1979;79:8-10,29-30.

  3. Allen RE, McCullough DR. Deer-car accidents in southern Michigan. Journal of Wildlife Management 1976;40:317-25.

  4. Ward AL. Mule deer behavior in relation to fencing and underpasses on Interstate 80 in Wyoming. Transportation Research Record 1982;859:8-13.

  5. Bellis ED, Graves HB. Highway fences as deterrents to vehicle-deer collisions. Transportation Research Record 1978;674:53-8.

  6. Pojar TM, Prosence RA, Reed DF, Woodard TN. Effectiveness of a lighted, animated deer crossing sign. Journal of Wildlife Management 1975;39:87-91.

  7. Schafer JA, Penland S, Carr WP. Effectiveness of wildlife warning reflectors in reducing deer-vehicle accidents in Washington State. Transportation Research Record 1985;1010:85-8.

  8. Bjornstig U, Eriksson A, Thorson J, Bylund P-O. Collisions with passenger cars and moose, Sweden. Am J Public Health 1986;76:460-2.

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