University of Illinois Extension

Public Health and Safety Issues

Be alert when you see deer crossing signs. 
Photo courtesy of Laura Kammin, University of Illinois Extension. Watch for white-tailed deer (<i>Odocoileus virginianus</i>) on roads, particularly in the early morning and evening hours. 
Photo courtesy of Adele Hodde, Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Most deer-vehicle accidents (DVAs) occur during the months of October, November and December. Another peak occurs in May and June as one-year old deer are dispersing to new areas. However, DVAs can happen at any time of year. Deer are crepuscular, meaning that they are active at dawn and dusk. Thus, it is not surprising that most accidents involving deer happen between the hours of 5 to 10 p.m. and 5 to 8 a.m. While not all deer-vehicle collisions can be prevented, there are steps that drivers can take to avoid an accident.

  • The single best way to avoid an accident is to be aware of the surroundings. Pay attention to deer crossing signs, and scan the roadsides for the "eyeshine" of deer (reflection of headlights in the deer’s eyes).
  • At night, use high-beam lights when appropriate. This may allow the deer to be seen a few seconds earlier, giving the driver enough time to avoid an accident.
  • Deer often use woodlots, fencerows, field edges or areas near water. Extra caution is needed when these habitats are close to roadways.
  • Slow down around curves in areas where deer are known to occur.
  • Slow down and prepare to stop if a deer is along the side of the road. There are likely more deer nearby. Deer will often follow one another single file across a road. Trying to cross through the middle of such a group often results in deer colliding with the side of the vehicle.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. Deer may stop in the middle of the road or decide to double back to the side of the road. Hard pavement such as concrete or asphalt provides poor traction for the hard and sharp hooves of deer. They may even fall down.
  • If there are deer near the road, and there are no vehicles close behind, slow down, honk the vehicle’s horn in short bursts and flash the headlights.
  • If deer are near the road, tap the brakes or use the emergency flashers to alert other drivers. Prepare to safely stop if the deer move toward the roadway.
  • If there are deer on or approaching the road, do not slam on the brakes or swerve sharply to avoid the deer. It is instinctual to do this, but doing so may cause a loss of control of the vehicle and a more severe accident.
  • Never tailgate! Always leave plenty of room between vehicles. Many severe deer vehicle accidents are caused when another vehicle becomes involved.

What To Do After a Deer-Vehicle Accident

  • Pull the vehicle off onto the shoulder of the road and turn on the emergency flashers.
  • Attend to any injured passengers. Do not get out of the vehicle to check on an injured deer or to pull a dead deer from the road. Do not risk being hit by another motorist.
  • Call 911 to report the accident. They will dispatch the appropriate law enforcement officials to assist at the site. Illinois law requires reporting of accidents that result in $1,500 or more in damage; additionally, an accident report must be filed.

The Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations documents what to do if you find a deer that has been killed or injured.

What To Do If You Find A Deer That Was Killed Or Injured By A Motor Vehicle And You Wish To Claim It

White-tailed deer killed/injured as a result of a collision with a motor vehicle may be legally possessed by an individual if the following criteria are met:

  1. The driver of a motor vehicle involved in a vehicle-deer collision has priority in possessing a deer. If the driver does not take possession of the deer before leaving the collision scene, any citizen of Illinois who is not delinquent in child support may possess and transport the deer.
  2. There is no limit to the number of deer that may be possessed under these circumstances.
  3. Individuals who claim a deer killed in a vehicle collision shall report the possession of the road-kill deer to the Department of Natural Resources within 24 hours via the IDNR website at http://www.dnr.state.il.us/law3/images/Road_kill.pdf or report the possession of the road-kill deer by telephoning (217)782-6431 no later than 4:30 p.m. on the next business day.
  4. Except for any law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties, it shall be illegal to kill a deer crippled by a collision with a motor vehicle.
  5. No part of a vehicle-killed deer can be bartered or sold.
  6. The State of Illinois is absolved of any and all liability associated with the handling or utilization of vehicle-killed deer. This does not, however, relieve involved parties from reporting other liabilities to appropriate agencies as required.

What To Do If You Find A Deer That Was Killed Or Injured By Methods Other Than Lawful Hunting Or A Vehicle-Deer Accident And You Wish To Claim It

White-tailed deer killed/injured as a result of methods other than lawful hunting or a vehicle/deer collision, may be legally possessed by an individual if the following criteria are met:

  1. Any individual finding a dead or crippled deer other than those killed/injured in a vehicle/deer collision, or legally taken by hunting methods, shall not transport said deer parts until permission is obtained from a Conservation Police Officer or a Regional Office. (Permission will be granted if it is determined that the person requesting possession did not illegally kill or injure the deer. When retained, the head/antler and hide shall be properly tagged with an irremovable tag obtained from the Regional Law Enforcement Office. The head/antler or hide tags shall remain attached to the head/antler or hide as long as the head/antler or hide remains in the green state, or when in a commercial manufacturing process).
  2. There is no limit to the number of deer that may be possessed under these circumstances.
  3. Except for any law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties, it shall be illegal to kill a deer crippled under these circumstances unless permission has been obtained from a Conservation Police Officer or the Regional Office (see phone numbers on page 1 of the Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations).
  4. No part of a deer killed by methods other than hunting can be bartered or sold.
  5. The State of Illinois is absolved of any and all liability associated with the handling or utilization of deer killed by methods other than lawful hunting. This does not, however, relieve involved parties from reporting other liabilities to appropriate agencies as required.