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One of Missouri's unluckiest motorists offers fall driving tips

Having hit five deer with her vehicles, this Columbia resident knows a thing or two about where, when and how such accidents happen.

COLUMBIA Mo.--Janice Erickson's husband dreads the ring of his cell phone from October through December. When she leaves work after 5 p.m. in the fall, friends remind her to drive carefully. You see, Erickson is a little accident prone.

Most Missourians will never hit a deer with their car. To date, Erickson has hit five.

"I don't know why," she says. "I guess I'm just unlucky when it comes to deer."

Erickson's husband, Dave, happens to be Wildlife Division administrator for the Missouri Department of Conservation. The irony of the situation isn't lost on him. At the retirement dinner for the previous Wildlife Division head, Ollie Torgerson, last year he asked, "Now who do I call when Janice hits a deer--myself?"

Admittedly, Erickson's risk of run-ins with hoofed pedestrians is increased by her 30-minute commute between Columbia and Hallsville, where she teaches school. Don't get the idea that her encounters with four-legged victims all have taken place on deserted blacktop roads, though. One of her mishaps occurred on Vandiver Drive, right in front of Dodge City Motor Co. in Columbia. Another happened in Columbia on Chapel Hill Road.

The in-town incidents happened at 5:30 and 7:15 a.m. This is consistent with statewide deer-car accident statistics, which show that most such collisions take place near dawn or dusk. However, Erickson has no illusions that she is safe when the sun is overhead. She has also killed deer in the middle of the afternoon.

It's a seasonal thing though, right? Nope. Erickson has hit (and occasionally been hit by) deer in the fall, winter and spring. Her summer record is unblemished so far, but she is watching the roadsides very carefully between now and first frost anyway.

So far, she has been lucky, at least in terms of personal injuries. Although her accidents have totaled one car and caused extensive damage to two others, she has only been hurt badly enough to need medical attention once. That was right before Christmas last year. A 250-pound buck came out of nowhere and crashed into the driver's side of her car as she was driving south on Route B near Hallsville. The deer went over the windshield of her car.

"All I could see was white, and I thought he was coming in, but I guess it was just the air bag."

Erickson escaped with nothing worse than severe bruises to her arm and a sprained thumb from the air bag. Nevertheless, it was a terrifying experience. She was driving 55 or 60 miles per hour on a two-lane highway in rush-hour traffic and couldn't see where she was going because of the inflated air bag. "Cars were whizzing past me on the left. I tried to steer to the right, but not too much. Some places there the road just drops off ."

After learning she was okay, many of those who came to help went off to admire the deer, a massive 10-pointer. Her nemesis hasn't always been a buck. One was a doe and another was a fawn.

"I'm kind of getting paranoid," said Erickson, "It's like I never know when one is going to come out of the woodwork."

In spite of the unpredictability of her encounters with deer, Erickson has some wisdom to offer other drivers:

--Be on your guard all the time. "The ones in town, you don't expect."

--Scan the road well to the sides of the pavement.

--Slow down if you see deer standing beside the road. They can dash back across the road in an instant, or others may cross the road to reach them.

--Wear your seat belt.

--Hold the steering wheel on the sides, not the inside. One of Erickson's friends suffered two broken wrists because she was holding the top of the wheel when her air bag inflated.

--Stay off the road at dawn and dusk if you can.

--Carry a cell phone to call for help if necessary.

If you do hit a deer, be sure to report it to a law-enforcement agency. This will be to your advantage if you file an insurance claim and will help track the frequency of deer-vehicle accidents statewide.

- Jim Low -




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