As Suffolk County faces a rising deer population, the county led the state in animal-related car crashes last year, a new study found.
There were 1,368 crashes involving animals in 2021, most of them deer, according to AAA Northeast, which compiled data from the Albany-based Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research. One of the accidents, in the Town of Babylon, was fatal.
Suffolk County had the second most animal-related crashes statewide in 2020, when there were 1,311, and the third most in 2019, when there were 1,415.
“This is a serious problem. I’ve had several close calls myself … one as recently as last evening,” said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs the state Environmental Conservation Committee.
With mating season in full swing through December, the normally docile bucks and does are more likely to dash into roads, so drivers are advised to be on the lookout, especially near parks or forested areas.
“The deer are in a hyped-up state and we need to watch out for them. It’s rutting season,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for AAA Northeast.
Sinclair advised motorists to drive slowly and avoid swerving if approaching a deer, which could result in a head-on collision with an incoming vehicle, or slamming on the brakes, which could send the animal through the windshield. Deer are most active at dawn and dusk.
“It’s one more thing that drivers need to be aware of and prepare for. There are consistent hazards that exist on the road,” Sinclair said.
Most of the crashes last year took place in Brookhaven, which had 440 related wrecks, followed by Southold, which had 208 and then Southampton, with 186, according to AAA’s analysis.
Long Island’s white-tailed deer population has increased since the 1980s and is spreading, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
"The deer population is growing throughout eastern Suffolk County and deer have expanded their range and increased in number in western Suffolk and Nassau counties,” according to a statement provided by Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the department.
Last year there were 34,081 animal crashes statewide, 117 more than the previous year. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 91% of animal crashes involve deer, according to AAA.
Across the state, 1,516 accidents resulted in injuries and five were deadly, according to AAA.
State Farm Insurance ranked New York 11th in the nation for the number of animal collision claims, with nearly 87,000 filed from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, according to State Farm spokesman Dave Phillips.
In Suffolk, property damage from animal crashes often costs thousands of dollars. About 9% of crashes in the county involved vehicle occupant injuries, according to AAA.
Riverhead Highway Superintendent Michael Zaleski noted the deer population is high and the Highway Division is busy picking up carcasses.
“I bet we pick up at least 200 dead deer a year on the sides of town roads. I would have to assume that a good percentage are hitting cars,” Zaleski said.
Several East End legislators have proposed state legislation to create a pilot deer-reduction program in Southold. The law proposes allowing hunters to kill from parked vehicles and also would create new rules for the use of crossbows.
“I think they’re trapped, they have nowhere to go. We’re on the end of the Island and they are reproducing,” said Assemb. Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow), who said current laws are too restrictive and birth control methods are cost prohibitive.
Englebright said marksmen brought into Southold this year to reduce the population had little effect on the overall number of deer and does not believe a pilot program could be applied to more densely populated areas of the Island. He would like to see a more comprehensive approach that involves birth control plus other methods.
“This is something that I believe requires some additional action beyond what we’ve taken,” Englebright said.
“If we’re talking about using basic weapons in close proximity to established neighborhoods and schools and the like, there is a great deal of public apprehension about the use of those devices,” he added.
There were 120 animal-related crashes in Nassau County.