In Ford County, deer are plentiful, road signs about them are not

In Ford County, deer are plentiful, road signs about them are not

PAXTON — Wary drivers who regularly travel Illinois 9 in Ford County probably already know the danger that exists just west of the intersection with Illinois 115.

It's where a bridge carries traffic over the Big Four drainage ditch. There's a wooded area to the north, with cornfields surrounding it.

It's where herds of deer can often be seen on both sides of the two-lane highway, especially at this time of the year.

The area around Illinois 9 and County Road 1300 East is, by far, the most dangerous place in the county for collisions involving deer, according to Sheriff Mark Doran.

"This area around 1300 East, if you look right when you're going across that bridge (while headed west), at morning and night, there's 30 to 50 deer out there sometimes," Doran said. "We've had them hit there three times in one night before. One time, a car hit the first deer, then another car swerved to go around the car that just hit the deer and then she hit another one in the other lane."

Of the 85 crashes involving deer in Ford County since 2015, 20 percent — 17 — have occurred on a 3-mile stretch of Illinois 9 between county roads 1300 East and 1600 East, including 10 at Illinois 9 and County Road 1300 East alone, according to statistics obtained from the sheriff's office through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Ford County Record.

The 85 crashes have resulted in 14 injuries and average property damage of $1,200 to vehicles, Doran said. And not only are stretches of Illinois 9 a problem, there are also other areas of the county where deer collisions happen regularly, too, including an area of Illinois 47 near Sibley and the north-south thoroughfare of Illinois 115 between Perdueville and Piper City.

"There's a bunch of deer out there," Doran said.

Yet, there are no deer crossing signs anywhere in Ford County.

"I think it's just one of those things where the locals know," Doran said.

IDOT phasing out signs

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has stopped putting up new deer-crossing signs on state highways and has been removing existing ones, spokeswoman Kelsea Gurski told The News-Gazette recently.

IDOT used to put them where records showed "concentrated and consistent roadkill that involved deer," Gurski said, "but we discontinued use of those signs on state highways."

"Our experience indicated that the signs were not effective," Gurski said.

Tom Schaefer, traffic operations engineer for IDOT's District 3 — which includes Iroquois and Ford counties — told the Ford County Record on Friday that putting signs up to alert drivers to the potential presence of deer is not practical when deer migrate, as they may be in one area on one given day but leave to go to another area the next day.

"The problem is the state of Illinois has a large deer population, and the deer migrate. They do not cross the same locations all the time; therefore, we don't install (signs)," Schaefer said. "Because deer migrate, they'll come across one spot for a while, and then they will shift to another spot."

Would signs even help?

Doran, who has been sheriff since 2006, said the number of accidents involving deer in Ford County fluctuates annually. Despite the number of accidents that have occurred in certain areas, he doesn't think having more deer-crossing signs would help the situation.

"Other than people calling in and saying, 'Ya know, the deer really need to use that sign,'" Doran said jokingly.

In all seriousness, Doran said he thinks having deer-crossing signs in Ford County would likely just take drivers' eyes off the road.

"I think it would do more harm than good," Doran said. "The reason I say that is nowadays you have sensory overload (when driving).

"... In front of (the) Solae (plant in Gibson City), I'd sit out there and write 'stop sign' tickets all day long (for drivers not obeying the four-way stop there)," Doran continued. "And I think a lot of that was sensory overload, because you've got the plant entrance, you've got the railroad, you've got the 'no passing' signs and you've got the yellow flashing lights for the crosswalk, and then you've got the red lights at the stop sign. Again, I think too many signs can be too much information to handle when you're driving a car."

Looking for food, water

Deer are out more at this time of the year, Doran noted, and they often can be seen around food sources such as standing corn, as well as waterways.

"Right now, they're starting to give birth," Doran said, "and once they start giving birth, they'll start kicking out last year's deer to be out on their own. And the younger deer that are being kicked out, they have to find their own herd a lot of times and things like that, so that's why they use the waterways because that's all they know."

Doran's main advice to drivers to be safe: Avoid swerving to miss a deer in the roadway.

"You're better off hitting the deer than taking the ditch or swerving into the other lane," he said, "because whenever you jerk the wheel, it disrupts the weight ratio on the car and it gives you a better chance to lose control. Even with these anti-lock brakes and all-wheel drive, when you slam on the brakes and then try to swerve, that's when you can lose control. And some SUVs, you can actually roll by doing that.

"So my best advice is if there is a deer in the roadway, you're best off to hit the deer. Obviously, hit your brakes and try to keep from hitting it, but if you have to, you have to."

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.