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The phrase "a deer in the headlights" is no laughing matter for drivers who have hit one, especially those on motorcycles.

According to the Automobile Association of America’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, motorcyclists comprised seven of the eight fatal crashes involving deer during the period from 2010 to 2012 in Maryland and Virginia.

“During this time of year, the height of the deer rutting season, motorcyclists should be especially vigilant and watchful for deer on area roads, as well as in rural areas,” said John B. Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.

According to Fairfax County officials, as of July — the last month for which statistic analysis is complete — at least 59 non-reportable deer-related vehicle crashes have occurred in Fairfax County. County officials estimate there also have been 31 reportable collisions involving animals during that time period.

Across the country, about 70 percent of deer crash fatalities involve motorcycles, AAA cautions. At 87.5 percent in Virginia and Maryland, the trend is even more striking.

“As a result, motorcycle riders are advised to consider taking alternate modes of transportation early in the morning and near dusk, when deer are most active,” Townsend said.

But motorcyclists aren’t the only ones who need to be on the lookout, said insurance company State Farm, which recently conducted its own research that stated that drivers in Virginia have a one in 103 chance of colliding with a deer and are 10th in the nation on the list of deer-vehicle collisions. That is up two spots, from 12th, in 2011.

State Farm’s data show that November is the month during which deer-vehicle encounters are most likely nationwide. More than 18 percent of all U.S. deer-related collisions take place during the 30 days of November. Deer-vehicle collisions are three times more likely to occur in November than they are between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31, the insurance company claims. November is the peak of white-tail deer rutting, or mating, season and deer are prone to running around more as part of that process, according to State Farm.

AAA research shows that more than 60 percent of all deer-related crashes in the Washington area occur between October and January. One-half to two-thirds of all vehicle collisions with deer occur in the three months of October, November and December.

State Farm also reports that the number of deer-related collisions in the U.S. has increased by 7.7 percent during the last year. This jump comes after a three-year period during which these collisions dropped 2.2 percent.

“The percentage increase in deer-related collisions over the last year was compiled from an increase in the number of insurance claims nationwide, but we don’t have exact data as to its cause,” said State Farm spokesperson Amy Preddy.

State Farm estimates 1.23 million collisions caused by the presence of deer occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012.

“Over the last four years, the number of deer-related claims paid by [State Farm] has increased 7.9 percent while other similar auto claims have declined 8.5 percent. We have known for quite a while that the frequency of [overall] auto insurance claims has been declining,” said State Farm spokesman Chris Mullen. “But whatever is causing that trend is obviously not impacting deer-related crashes.”

During the past three years, at least eight persons were killed in fatal crashes involving deer on roads in Virginia and Maryland, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s analysis.

“It’s a reminder that deer-related vehicle crashes, motorcycle-deer collisions occur all year long. But area drivers and bikers should be especially alert in the fall and spring at dusk and dawn when stags are looking for mates,” warned Townsend. “They should also pay attention to deer crossing and speed limit signs. Such signs are placed at known deer crossing paths to alert motorists and motorcyclists alike to the presence of deer.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com