Stark County recorded the most deer-vehicle crashes in 2011, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute, which announces the most at-risk counties this time each year.

The report is timed for the October-January deer mating season, when the risk of a collision is at its greatest. The analysis is done in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Public Safety and Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Overall, last year’s 22,696 collisions around the state were down about 2 percent from the previous year. Seven people died, and 1,031 were injured in the accidents.

As a county, Stark took the unfortunate crown, with 615 crashes, followed by Hamilton (606), Lorain (602), Richland (599) and Tuscarawas (495).

Summit and Portage counties also cracked the top 10 among Ohio’s 88 counties.

However, Summit’s 487 accidents reflect a 12 percent decrease over the past three years, and Portage’s 424 deer-related crashes are 5 percent fewer than in 2009. Stark County’s total is 2 percent less over that period.

Ohio Insurance Institute spokeswoman Mary Bonelli said the agencies have been teaming up for more than 20 years “to provide a heads-up to Ohio drivers this time of year. We do it to create awareness more than any other reason.”

Most deer-vehicle crashes occur at dusk and dawn, Bonelli said. The report shows that 77 percent of all accidents occur between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. or 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Last year, November recorded 5,473 crashes, the highest number for any month.

Ohio’s Division of Wildlife remains committed to reducing white-tailed deer populations where needed through a combination of regulatory and programmatic changes, the report added.

The report also noted that vehicle damage from deer collisions averages about $3,100 per claim. In Ohio, that means 2011 incidents cost vehicle owners and insurance companies about $70 million.

OII offered these driving tips:

• Drive with extreme caution, at or below the posted speed limit, in areas with deer-crossing signs.

• If you see one deer on or near a roadway, expect others to follow. Slow down and be alert. Deer often dart out into traffic.

• After dark, use high beams when there is no opposing traffic. High beams will illuminate the eyes of deer on or near a roadway and provide greater motorist reaction time.

• Always wear a seat belt as required by state law and drive at a safe, sensible speed for conditions.

• If a collision with a deer seems probable then hit it while maintaining full control of your vehicle. Don’t swerve your vehicle to avoid striking a deer. Brake firmly and stay in your lane. The alternative could be even worse.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.