Be on the lookout for deer while commuting or cruising to enjoy autumn's colors. Insurance claims for collisions with animals rise significantly in the fall when deer are mating, with November having the highest claim frequency.
The State Farm insurance company estimates that there were over 1.9 million animal collision insurance claims this past year. The costs really add up. The Highway Data Loss Institute (HLDI) reports that the severity of crashes also increases in the fall. The average cost of November animal-strike claims over the past 13 years was $3,560, compared with $2,801 for February, the month with the least severe crashes.
HLDI says that the cost of deer crashes has been increasing steadily over that period. The organization attributes the rise to higher-priced cars and components.
“Adapting pedestrian crash prevention systems to detect animals as well as people in the roadway could help avoid many of these collisions,” says Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI.
Consumer Reports analysis shows that 38 percent of new cars now come with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. But not all systems are designed to recognize large animals
“Fall brings the dangerous combination of the deer being more active when we’re driving more in the dark due to the shorter daylight hours," says Jen Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center. Deer are most active at dawn and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., so use your high beams, Stockburger says.
These collisions can be fatal to the animals, and the most recent data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that 211 people were killed in crashes involving animals in 2017.
“The best defense is common sense,” says Russ Rader, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesman. “Slow down in areas where deer are prevalent. If you see one deer cross the road ahead, others are likely to follow.”
He notes that most human deaths in these crashes happen when a vehicle runs off the road or a motorcyclist falls off the bike after a collision. “Most of the human deaths would be prevented if every driver buckled up and every motorcyclist wore a helmet,” Rader says.
How to Avoid Hitting a Deer
- Slow down. Watch for deer especially around dawn and between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., when they're most active.
- Be aware. Look out for deer-crossing signs and wooded areas where animals are likely to travel. If you travel the same route to and from work every day, you may find deer consistently grazing in the same fields. Make a mental note of when and where you regularly see the animals.
- Be alert. If you see an animal on the side of the road, slow down. At night when traffic permits, put on your high beams for improved visibility.
- Brake, don’t swerve. Swerving to avoid an animal can put you at risk for hitting another vehicle or losing control of your car. It can also confuse the animal as to which way to go. Instead, just slow down as quickly and safely as you can. Your odds for surviving an accident are better when hitting an animal than hitting another car.
- Assume they have friends. The “where there’s one, there’s usually more” often holds true. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one run across the road, expect others to follow.
- Don’t rely on deer whistles. These are aftermarket devices that some drivers put on their front bumpers to scare off animals. But animal behavior remains unpredictable, even if you use one of these.
- Buckle up. A seat belt is your best defense for minimizing your risk in a crash. An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that 60 percent of the people killed in animal-vehicle collisions weren’t wearing their seat belts.
What to do if you hit an animal
If you hit an animal, move your car safely off the road and call the police or animal control. Don't attempt to touch an injured animal. Photograph the scene, then call your insurance company when you get home. Damage from animal collisions is usually covered by auto insurance policies.
Top States for Deer Collisions*
- West Virginia
- South Dakota
*According to State Farm.