There were 475 deer-related accidents in the Town of East Hampton last year.
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The town's deer management coordinator, Andrew Gaites, maps the number of deer-related accidents in the town. He's been doing this for years. According to the data he collected, 2016 had the highest recorded number of deer carcasses collected by the highway department.
The study, commissioned by the Town of East Hampton, was initiated to help identify "hotspots" -- areas in which the most collisions take place.
The project was initiated with certain goals in mind -- to help dictate where to place signs to slow drivers down where deer are known to cross, to identify and address visibility issues for drivers, and to place education/warning signs about the number of deer-related accidents in town. The data can also be used to "identify potential public hunting areas," Gaites said.
Gaites gathered information from reported collisions and deer carcass removals by town staff as well as estimated data provided by the New York State Department of Transportation, which oversees state roads like Montauk Highway and Route 114. Each reported collision or carcass removal was mapped by location using either a street, cross road, or telephone pole marker which was then entered into a database created for this project. Gaites indicated, however, that these numbers do not include collisions or carcass removals in East Hampton Village, Sag Harbor, or any state roads.
Stephen Lynch, East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent, reported his employees pick up an average of three deer carcasses every day. However, these numbers vary depending upon the time of year. According to Gaites's research, September through December are when the most collisions take place.
Rosemary Cavagnaro of Hampton Auto Collision located on Springs Fireplace Road corroborates these numbers. She said they sometimes repair one to two cars a week but the number of wrecks and collisions are "seasonal." In the fall, the shop tends to receive more calls for deer-related accidents, she said. The average cost of repair for these types of collisions range from $1500 to $4000, according to Cavagnaro.
Over the past two years State Farm has seen an increase in collision claims from their East End insureds, said a representative from the insurance company. The claims are mostly from "someone hitting a deer that was running across the road." Many of these claims she said averaged over $4000 in repair costs, the rep said.
While East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo doesn't have any formal recommendations as to what the town or village should do with the deer population, he stated, "As for drivers, if everyone slowed down, obeyed the posted speed limits, and cut down on distracted driving, their ability to react to deer running across the road would improve greatly, and the number of deer strikes would be reduced significantly."
Working in association with the highway department, and Bob Masin and Barnaby Friedman from the town's IT department, Gaites created a detailed map of all deer collisions in the area. The maps illustrate the most likely spots for an accident. With the hotspots being identified, drivers can be more cautious while traveling in these areas. The town plans to use this data to visually mark high collision areas with signs to further alert drivers to the danger.
It's generally considered by experts that there will be more deer-related accidents this year than ever before.
Although Gaites has said that he has not yet received the data for 2017, he did say that the average for the past five years is 367 collisions per year. That number was exceeded last year by more than 100 at 475. Having seen the statistics firsthand, Gaites believes, along with other experts such as Thomas J. Rawinski of the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, that there will be more deer-related accidents this year due to the increasing deer population and diminishing habitat. Rawinski was a speaker at a community forum on the East End deer population on July 27 at St. Luke's Church.
While many areas have been marked with Federal Highway Administration deer caution signs, there are some hotspots that have not been marked. According to Gaites, there are two major hotspots that have been noted as having a greater number of deer-related accidents. The first is the general area of the intersection of Sag Harbor Turnpike (Route 114) and Stephen Hands Path to Cedar Street. The hotspot continues down Cedar Street toward North Main Street.
The areas of Montauk that seem to be the most dangerous include most of Flamingo Avenue, especially between Wills Point Road and Fenwick Place.
Though it is not expressly listed, Montauk Highway along the Napeague Stretch seems to be another major hotspot with very high numbers of deer collisions.
Gaites said, "We need to work to reduce the deer population to a sustainable level."