Body shop technician Bob Tarney was feeling mellow as he drove home from work on Ohio 2. He was going 70 mph on cruise control when he suddenly saw something large jump in front of his three-quarter-ton GMC truck.
The deer went right through the grille of Tarney’s truck.
“I had no time at all,” Tarney said, recalling last year’s accident. “You’re relaxed and all of a sudden it wakes you up quick.”
“It wiped out the whole front of my truck,” he said. “I had to get it towed.”
Tarney, who wound up spending about $8,000 to get the truck fixed, ran into a safety problem that’s growing both locally and statewide.
Erie County had 329 deer-vehicle collisions in 2006 — up 10 percent from the 299 in 2005. Collisions also rose in other area counties.
Statewide, deer-vehicle collisions totaled 28,240 in 2006, up 3.3 percent from 2005, according to statistics compiled by the Ohio Insurance Institute. Twelve people were killed in last year’s crashes — up from nine in 2005. Deer-vehicle crashes injured 1,024 people in Ohio last year.
The growing number of accidents apparently is driven by Ohio’s rising deer population. State wildlife officials say the current deer population is 675,000, up from 600,000 last year. Last year, the number of registered vehicles in Ohio exceeded 12 million.
The prime deer-collision season starts in mid to late October and extends into the spring.
Kasper Body Shop at 2401 Cleveland Road, Tarney’s employer, already is getting plenty of work.
“We have four of them here right now. They are all deer hits,” said Frank Sirse, fixed operations manager and body shop manager for Kasper Buick Pontiac GMC. The Kasper body shop in Norwalk has two vehicles damaged in deer accidents, Sirse said.
Head-on deer collisions routinely cost thousands of dollars, Sirse said.
One of Sirse’s customers, business consultant Kit Dietz of Huron, was driving last week to a business meeting in Kentucky.
Dietz was only a few miles from home in Vermilion Township when a deer ran up to his GTO.
“It just came out of nowhere and hit the side of my car,” Dietz said. “It was shocking. It was a pretty large deer. I was just glad he didn’t run out in front of me.”
The accident cost Dietz about $2,800.
Deer collisions also provide a steady source of business at John’s Body Shop in Sandusky, said owner John R. White, who has been in business for 36 years.
“We probably do eight or 10 in a year,” White said.
If you see a deer on the side of the road, “you’ve got to slow down, because if there’s one, there’s two,” White said. “There’s always two of them, at least.”
The Ohio Insurance Institute offers the following advice to minimize the risk of deer-vehicle crashes:
*Drive cautiously, observing the speed limit, in areas with deer-crossing signs.
*Be alert, particularly from sunset to midnight and before and after dawn, when most crashes occur. Crashes are most common October through spring.
*If you see one deer, expect others and slow down.
*Use high beams after dark. The reflection from the headlights will help you see the deer’s eyes.
*Wear a seat belt.
*Don’t swerve to avoid hitting a deer. If you can’t avoid a collision, hit it while maintaining control of your car.
*Report collisions to local law enforcement.