Share the road: A look at vehicle-deer crash data in Michigan

How often, when, where vehicle-deer crashes occur in Michigan

Photo by Divide By Zero on Unsplash (Unsplash)

Have you been feeling like there are more deer on the road than usual?

That may be because the deer population seems to be growing in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula -- but it’s also because it’s just that time of the year.

Michigan officials don’t keep statewide deer population estimates, but an expert in 2021 estimated that there are around 2 million deer in the state. The consistent decline in deer hunters is partly responsible for a seemingly growing deer herd in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Motor vehicle-deer crashes occur often in the state of Michigan, especially toward the end of the year. Tens of thousands of crashes are reported in the state each year, though only a handful of those crashes are fatal.

Let’s dive into how often these crashes occur, when they occur and where.

Number of crashes

Since 2011, the state has recorded at least 50,000 vehicle-deer crashes each year.

In 2021, there were 52,218 motor vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan. About 1,449 injuries and 10 deaths were reported from those crashes. Officials say six of those deaths were motorcyclists.

The numbers were slightly lower in 2020, perhaps due to fewer drivers on the road amid the onset of the pandemic. There were 51,103 vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan in 2020, with 1,400 reported injuries and five reported deaths. Two of those deaths were motorcyclists.

Over the last 10 years, the number of crashes each year has stayed fairly consistent with some slight fluctuations.

The fewest crashes occurred in 2014, with 45,690 vehicle-deer crashes reported in the state. The most crashes occurred in 2019, with 55,531 crashes reported.

The number of vehicle-deer crashes recorded in Michigan today are actually slightly lower than the numbers reported more than 10 years ago. Data from the past 20 years shows that the early 2000s experienced the most deer-involved crashes than any of the years that followed.

The year 2003 saw the most vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan than any other year in the last 20 years, with 67,760 crashes recorded in total. 2002 recorded the second-highest number, with 63,136 crashes, while 2004 saw 62,707 crashes.

The number of annual crashes then somewhat plateaued until dipping slightly in the early 2010s. The numbers have been rising since, although inconsistently.

Time of day with most crashes

Though the number of crashes changes each year, the data shows that most crashes tend to occur around the same times of day.

The most vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan occur between 6 a.m.-8:59 a.m., and between 6 p.m.-8:59 p.m. The third most popular time for crashes to occur is between 9 p.m. and midnight.

The reasoning behind these numbers may have to do with the time of the year that most of these crashes occur.

Months with most crashes

In 2021, most vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan -- 42.5% -- occurred between October and December. This is an annual trend: The numbers were similar in 2020, with 42.6% of vehicle-deer crashes occurring between October and December.

As you know, during these months, the sun rises later in the mornings and earlier in the evenings -- which may account for the many dusk/dawn vehicle-deer crashes that occur in Michigan.

Officials say there are more deer running around and crossing the road toward the end of the year because they are looking for mates.

More: Here’s why car crashes involving deer spike in the fall in Metro Detroit

Counties with most crashes

Majority of vehicle-deer crashes that occur in Michigan occur in the Metro Detroit area.

Oakland County saw the most vehicle-deer crashes in 2021, recording 1,853 crashes in total. Nearby Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston and Washtenaw counties each recorded more than 1,000 crashes, as well.

Oakland County officials say their county experiences the most crashes because there are not as many deer hunters, the region has plenty of food for the deer, and people may not expect to encounter deer in this specific area, so it takes them by surprise.

Kent County on the state’s west side recorded the second-highest number of vehicle-deer crashes in Michigan in 2021, reporting 1,810 crashes. The surrounding counties of Ottawa, Allegan and Kalamazoo also recorded more than 1,000 crashes in 2021.

Several of the southernmost counties in the Lower Peninsula had a significant amount of crashes, especially compared to northern Lower Peninsula counties, which have far lower numbers. Oscoda County, for example, reported only 113 such crashes. Some counties in the Upper Peninsula had even fewer.

The number of vehicle-deer crashes that occurred in each Michigan county in 2021. Map courtesy of michigantrafficcrashfacts.org. (michigantrafficcrashfacts.org)

What to do if you encounter deer while driving

If you encounter deer while driving, it’s important to remain calm and remember not to immediately swerve -- the most serious crashes happen when motorists veer to avoid a deer and instead hit another vehicle or fixed object, or their vehicle rolls over.

Here are some tips to avoid a crash:

  • Stay aware, awake and sober.
  • Vehicle-deer crashes occur year-round, but be especially alert in spring and fall.
  • Signs are placed at known deer crossing areas to alert you of the possible presence of deer.
  • Deer are herd animals and frequently travel in single file. If you see one deer cross the road, chances are there are more waiting.
  • Be alert for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. If you see one, slow down.
  • Don’t rely on gimmicks, flashing your high-beam headlights or honking your horn to deter deer.

If a crash is unavoidable:

  • Don’t swerve. Brake firmly, hold onto the steering wheel, and bring your vehicle to a controlled stop.
  • Pull off the road, turn on your emergency flashers, and be cautious of other traffic if you exit your vehicle.
  • Report the crash to the nearest police agency and your insurance company.

Related: Video shows deer leaping over car in West Michigan


Previously on Data Drop:


About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.