This is a very good time of year to become obsessive about deer.

It's mating season. They're all out there looking to make deer whoopee and they're paying no attention to vehicles. So unless you want a side of venison in your lap, you'd be well-advised to look out for them.

This is especially true at night and in those areas where the suburbs blend into rural Maryland. But you aren't even safe from the bounding beasts in Baltimore City.

Keeping one's mind on the possibility that a randy buck could jump in front of you at any moment is difficult. It's hard to concentrate on something that's a remote possibility on any given night (though likely over the course of one's driving career).

But in those places that are probably deer habitat, it is prudent to turn off the radio, avoid distracting conversation, put away the cell phone and indulge in paranoid fantasies that the animals are out to get you.

In a way, they are. In 2007, the last year on record, two people died and 458 were injured in 1,962 animal-vehicle crashes in Maryland, according to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, the average property damage claim from a deer-vehicle crash was $3,300. The group offered the following tips for dealing with the critters.

* Buckle up and do not speed. A decrease in speed gives you more time to react.

* Be observant. Look for deer-crossing signs indicating areas where deer frequently travel. They are creatures of habit and may often use the same path again - remember where you see them.

* Be alert. A deer standing near a roadside may suddenly run across the road. Slow down and use your horn to scare the deer. Never shine or flash your vehicle's lights. This can cause the deer to fixate on your vehicle. Use high beams for greater visibility.

* Look for groups. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one crossing the road ahead slow down, as there are probably others in the area but out of view.

* Never swerve. Instead, slow down and brake. Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and strike another vehicle or object along the roadway.

* Do not rely on devices. There is no conclusive evidence that hood-mounted deer whistles and other such devices work.

* Slow down. If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, AAA recommends slowing down and releasing your foot from the brake before impact. This will raise the front end of the car during the crash and increase the likelihood that the animal will go underneath the vehicle instead of through the windshield.

* Do not try to move a deer. An injured deer might panic and seriously injure a Good Samaritan. Call police or animal control for assistance.

Retired driving instructor Herbert Simon, who reports that deer are plentiful near his Eastern Shore home, said drivers must avoid watching the road with a fixed stare and scan conditions ahead.

"You've got to move your eyes," he said. If you spot and mentally process the presence of a deer half a second sooner than you would otherwise, he said, you can cut the risk of a collision by 50 percent.

Simon said the importance of slowing down can't be overemphasized. He said that if a deer jumps into the road 200 feet in front of you and you're going 55 mph, chances are you can slow to 10 mph by the time you reach the point of impact. At 65 mph, Simon said, you'll still be going 45 mph - fast enough to send the animal crashing into your windshield.

I'll add a few suggestions of my own:

* Make a mental note of deer strikes. If you see a dead deer by the side of a road, that tells you the animals hang out near there.

* Don't get complacent on highways. Deer don't always avoid interstates. U.S. 50 on the way to Ocean City is crawling with them.

* Put your passenger to work. In high-risk areas, especially where fields and woods blend together, ask a passenger to be alert for deer. Not only does that make that person a second set of eyes, it can deter driver-distracting activities and chatter.

If you're a parent of a teen who is close to getting a driver's license, you have a great opportunity to raise consciousness about a hazard they might not hear much about in driver's ed. If the teen is about to get a learner's permit, ask him or her to be your spotter in areas of high deer risk. If the teen is driving on a permit with you in the car, calmly issue reminders to look out for the animals when in those areas.

The kid might think you're a maniac, but you'll plant a thought in his or her mind that won't go away. Think of it as Positive Parental Brainwashing.

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