Road collisions involving deer: the facts

Posted on March 1st, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Road collisions involving deer: the factsThe Good Motoring mailbag included a very interesting question from a member in the Scottish Borders recently “How serious and frequent are road collisions involving deer these days?”, she asks. “Where are they most likely to occur? I ask because my husband (who is a vet) managed to hit one on a late night return from a farm last week. It put a massive crack in the front windscreen of his Land Rover Freelander. After some stitching, the deer lived to tell the tale and is back in the wild. How common is this?”

We did some research and can offer the following information:

According to the Deer Collisions research project, road traffic accidents involving deer present a major problem in the UK as well as in many other countries in Europe. For example, in Germany more than 220,000 traffic collisions occur annually involving deer, over 1000 of which lead to human injuries and around 20 to human fatalities. In the UK there is no system for central collation of road traffic accidents involving deer or other wildlife, and firm statistics on the scale of the problem in this country remain unavailable.

However, a pilot survey commissioned by the Highways Agency as far back as 1997 estimated that the number of deer killed annually in traffic collisions in the UK was already between 30,000 and 40,000. A fuller study commenced in 2003, again with lead funding from the HA, based on sample data collected annually from a range of organisations and individuals. This reaffirms that the annual number of deer killed or injured on UK roads is likely to exceed 40,000 and may well be nearer 70,000.

Inevitably, such deer-related traffic accidents have a considerable impact:

They present one of the main causes of mortality among wild populations of deer. They pose a major animal welfare issue, because a high proportion of deer which are hit by cars are not killed outright: many have to be put down at the roadside, while others escape to die later of their injuries.

They pose a safety hazard to road users, and lead to substantial damage to cars and numerous human injuries as well as a number of human fatalities in most years.

We have also found the results of a study by Professor Brian Davies of Aberdeen University. He and his colleagues estimated that close to 300 people die and 30,000 are injured throughout Europe each year in collisions with ‘hoofed game’.  The associated cost is reckoned to be in the region of £700 million. Professor Davies’ group made a five-year analysis of recorded accidents within Scotland; they concluded that most accidents occurred in late spring and late autumn, mostly at night, with peaks at dawn and dusk. Proportionally more accidents occur on motorways and major trunk roads than on minor roads.