Deer-related traffic accidents surge in Hokkaido, prompting safety warnings

A surge in deer-related traffic accidents in Hokkaido prompts safety alerts, with incidents reaching a record high in 2023.

A surge in deer-related traffic accidents has sparked safety concerns for drivers in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Reports indicate that incidents involving Yezo sika deer bolting onto roads have resulted in injuries and fatalities, prompting authorities to issue advisories for heightened caution.

The alarming trend reveals a steady increase in road accidents involving deer, reaching a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2023, totalling 5,287 incidents, including two fatalities. Experts attribute this rise to factors such as reduced snowfall due to global warming, enabling deer to expand their habitat from eastern Hokkaido to central and western regions, where human populations are denser.

Hokkaido prefectural police data shows a notable upward trajectory in deer-related traffic accidents since 2016, with a 2.9-fold increase reported in 2023 compared to a decade prior. Over five years between 2019 and 2023, seven fatalities and 26 injuries were recorded due to deer-related collisions.

One example occurred on October 26, 2022, when a minivan collided head-on with a truck on National Route 272 in Shibecha, eastern Hokkaido, resulting in two fatalities and severe injuries to the truck driver, following a collision with a deer.

The majority of accidents occur during the deer mating season between October and November, particularly during dusk, a period when encounters on roads are most prevalent. Central Hokkaido’s Tomakomai city reported the highest number of accidents in 2023, with 387 incidents, followed by Kushiro in the eastern part of the island with 281.

Despite being endangered during the Meiji era, the Yezo sika deer population has rebounded, reaching approximately 720,000 in fiscal 2022, attributed partly to hunting restrictions. Efforts to manage the deer population face challenges due to a declining number of hunters and logistical complexities.

Insurance companies have also been affected, with a significant increase in payouts for deer-related accidents, totalling 670 million yen ($4.5 million) in October and November 2023. The Hokkaido branch of the General Insurance Association of Japan has intensified awareness campaigns, urging drivers to exercise caution and vigilance to mitigate risks associated with deer encounters on the roads.