Car-deer accidents in Wisconsin in 2023 are expected to be similar to recent years

In the last 15 years, the chances of hitting a deer have increased

A deer crosses in front of cars
AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Wisconsin drivers are on pace to hit as many deer this year as they have in each of the past three years.

Car-deer accidents in the state have been declining recently according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. But according to data from an insurance company, there’s still a greater chance of hitting a deer now in Wisconsin than there was 15 years ago.

“Recently, it’s been holding pretty steady,” said David Pabst, director of the Bureau of Transportation Safety for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “We’re still doing over 16,000 crashes over the last three years, and we’re on that same track right now for 2023.”

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Pabst said there have been about 11,000 car-deer accidents as of mid-October of this year. Between 25 and 33 percent of all the state’s car-deer accidents happen in October and November each year. This is the mating season for deer, also known as the rut, and deer are on the move. Most deer accidents this time of year happen in the dark, especially around dawn and dusk.

Deer populations near southern Wisconsin cities contribute to many crashes, experts say

Where deer populations are located has shifted over the last few decades, and that has affected where car-deer accidents are happening.

“We’ve always thought of deer hunting as a northern thing and that was certainly the case in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s,” said DNR deer program specialist Jeff Pritzl. “There’s still deer up north, but at the turn of the century, the deer population in the southern half of Wisconsin blossomed and continues to.”

In southern parts of the state, the deer are more concentrated, he said.

“You have this higher volume of deer and people traffic hitting on the same roads,” Pritzl said.

Pabst said in recent years, the most car-deer accidents are occurring in more urban areas like Dane and Waukesha Counties. The number of deer harvested during the annual deer hunt seems to have no correlation to how many deer are hit by drivers the following year, according to Pritzl.

The state only requires drivers with $1,500 in damage to report an accident. Based on those reporting requirements, there was at least $24.4 million dollars in damage from car-deer accidents in 2022. But, that total likely underestimates the actual amount of damage car-deer accidents create in Wisconsin annually.

“We recognize that the numbers represent a minimum because there are unreported accidents,” Pritzl said.

Insurance study shows today’s drivers are more likely to hit deer than in the past

State Farm Insurance ranks states by likelihood of hitting an animal while driving, and Wisconsin ranks fifth in this year’s report. One in every 60 car accidents in Wisconsin involved an animal in the most recent report. More than a decade ago, Wisconsin was ranked seventh in the nation with an almost one in 100 chance of hitting an animal.

Still, 95 percent of total car accidents in Wisconsin are caused by driver behavior, Pabst said, and there are a lot of preventative steps drivers can take, like making sure a car’s lights and other equipment like the horn are working. People also need to drive sober and slow down, he said.

“When you are driving, you need to pay attention,” said Pabst. “In the evening, or in the morning, make sure you have your headlights on so other drivers can see you, but also help you see the deer.”

Five people died in car-deer accidents in Wisconsin last year, and there were 16,200 car-deer accidents total.

“One of the easiest things to do to save your life is to put your seatbelt on and then put the phone down,” he said. “Do that, and you’re getting so much closer to safety.”