MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What makes or attracts deer to run in front of cars?

Date: Wed Feb 27 16:01:05 2002
Posted By: Gail Lutowski, Staff, Forest Resources, Warnell Forest Education Center
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1013438154.Zo


Q.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  

A.  To show the deer it could be done.

All joking aside, deer-automobile collisions are a serious problem in many 
areas of the United States.  First off, to answer your question, there is 
nothing that specifically attracts or makes deer run in front of cars. I 
would propose that the number one cause of deer (and other animals) being 
hit on roadways is something called habitat fragmentation.

Habitat fragmentation is when large areas of wildlife habitat are broken 
up into smaller areas by some topographic feature.  Keep in mind that deer 
are large, very mobile animals that need large areas of land to survive.  
When habitats in which deer live are broken up by roads, the deer are 
forced to cross the roads on a regular basis and this inevitably causes 
accidents.  The problem is further compounded by the fact that deer, while 
not specifically attracted to cars, are attracted to urban areas (ask 
anyone who has a garden in an area with deer ;) which increases the 
probability that any one individual deer will be hit by a car.

Along the same lines, deer are also attracted to roadsides and shoulders 
because these areas are often planted with plants that deer find highly 
attractive to eat.  In cold areas of the country, deer are also attracted 
to roadways by the salt that is put down to de-ice the roads.  I have 
personally seen deer feeding along roadsides get hit by oncoming vehicles 
and it isnít pretty for the deer or for the driver of the car.

Unfortunately, I donít think we will ever fully solve the problem, but 
there are some things that can help alleviate it.  The first thing to come 
to mind is to ensure that there isnít a deer abundance problem in urban or 
suburban areas.  Many urban areas have an overpopulation of deer and 
subsequently have more trouble with deer-automobile collisions than areas 
with a controlled deer population.  The best (best meaning both effective 
and economical) way to control a deer population is by regulated hunting, 
although in urban areas people tend to have a more anti-hunting attitude 
and traditional hunts are not always safe in the suburbs.  Research is 
currently being conducted on alternatives to traditional population 
management techniques such as wildlife contraception.  One area in 
Michigan is even using GIS technology to address the issue of deer 
collisions from an urban planning perspective.  For more information on 
the subject, visit the links below: 

(you need Adobe Acrobat Reader for this one) While controlling deer populations is best left to wildlife professionals, there are a few things you can do personally to help reduce the deer collision problem. I would encourage you to landscape with plants that are unattractive to deer so that they are not drawn to your neighborhood. Your local Agriculture Extension Agent can provide you with information on which are the best deer-proof plants for your area. Additionally, just using common sense when driving through problematic areas can be your best personal defense. Obey speed limits, keep your eyes open for deer on roadsides and wear your seatbelt. I hope this has helped! Take care! Gail

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