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Slow Down for Deer in Love

Shortened days and increased holiday road congestion are enough to make drivers jumpy from late October through December. Add to these inconveniences deer mating season and it's a trifecta of dangerous driving conditions.

During these months bucks throw caution to the wind in order to seek out a mate, and driving throughout Fairfield County, where there is a profusion of deer, can get particularly dicey. "Basically, the bucks run around all day chasing girls," says Mark Harper, an animal control officer with the Weston Police Department. "And they really don't care where they're going. It can be a backyard or back road. They just go," he adds. And they go fast, often at speeds of 40 miles per hour.

While deer-related crashes are generally catastrophic for the animals, they are also costly to automobile owners. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safet y estimates that approximately 1.6 million deer-motor vehicle crashes occur each year on roads nationally. Such collisions make up over $3.6 billion in vehicle damage per year.

According to Laura Simon , field director for urban wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States , mating season "keeps deer on the move, regardless of the time of day," which means that those "Watch for Deer" road signs aren't only applicable at dusk and dawn. Additionally, she says, deer are herd animals. "If you see one near the side of the road it's likely that animal isn't traveling alone."

White-tailed deer, members of the Cervidae family that calls Fairfield County home, have adapted well to suburban life. This accounts for an uptick in their population, which is estimated to be some 30 million throughout the country.

The AAA Foundation for Automotive Safety has these tips for head's up driving during deer mating season:

• Decrease speed. It gives you more time to react.

• Look for deer-crossing signs indicating areas where deer frequently travel. Deer are creatures of habit and often use the same path again, so remember where you see them.

• Be alert. A deer standing near a roadside may suddenly run across the road. Slow down and use your horn to scare the deer. Never shine or flash your vehicle's lights. This can cause the deer to fixate on your vehicle. Use high beams for greater visibility.

• Don't swerve. It can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and strike another vehicle or object along the roadway.

• Do not rely on devices. There is no conclusive evidence that hood-mounted deer whistles and other such devices work.

• Slow down. If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, release your foot from the brake before impact. This will raise the front end of the car during the crash and increase the likelihood that the animal will go underneath the vehicle instead of through the windshield.

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