When Mary Smith relocated from a densely populated area of Los Angeles to rural Kentucky, she expected her auto insurance premium to go down considerably. After all, she reasoned that with far fewer cars on the road the risk of accidents must be lower. Mary was stunned to find that her auto insurance premium in Kentucky was just about the same. “How can this be?” she asked. A big part of the answer came down to one word: deer.
In many states the continuing explosion in the deer population has lead to a corresponding increase in deer related collisions. And, there does not appear to be an end in sight, because the deer population continues to grow and urban habitats continue to spread to previously rural environments.
Drivers are indemnified for deer/car collisions under the comprehensive section of their auto insurance, which covers “contact with bird or animal.” Although these accidents usually cost less than $2,000 per claim for repairs and injuries, costs can run as high as $8,000 or more depending on the vehicle and extent of damage. According to research by the Insurance Information Institute (III), auto insurers paid nearly $1 billion in deer related claims in 2002. Ultimately, the entire $1 billion is paid from individuals’ pockets in the form of higher auto insurance premiums. Even worse than property damage and higher insurance rates are the risks of injuries and even deaths from deer/car collisions; approximately 100 people die and 13,000 are injured each year in deer related accidents.
Most car/deer collisions occur between the months of October and December, but a car/deer collision may occur at any time. Most of these collisions occur either between 6:00 PM and midnight or around sunrise. As expected rural, two-lane roadways are the sites of most incidents, but deer are also commonly found in densely populated areas.
The following are some tips to help drivers avoid colliding with deer:
- Notice areas posted with deer crossing signs, areas known to have a large deer population, and areas where roads divide agricultural fields and forest lands. Slow down in these areas.
- Survey the surrounding fields and roadsides as you are driving. You will often be able to see deer before they get close to the roadway.
- If you see a deer near the road, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer.
- Keep in mind that if you see one deer there are usually others nearby.
- Use your high beams if no traffic is approaching. They will illuminate the deer sooner than low beams, allowing greater reaction time.
- If a deer should dart in front of your vehicle, brake firmly but stay in your lane. Do not swerve to avoid hitting it. This can confuse the deer on where to run. It can also cause you to lose control. It is less dangerous to collide with the deer than to collide with another vehicle or a tree, pole, or other roadside object.
- Don’t think you are protected from deer/car collisions by using deer whistles or reflectors. According to the Insurance Information Institute, “these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.”
- As always, wear your seat belt for safety and for deer-collision safety in particular. Most people injured in car/deer crashes were not wearing their seat belts.
- If you do hit a deer, don’t get out of the car. An injured deer, frightened and wounded, can be dangerous. If the deer is blocking the roadway call the police.
- Contact your insurance agent or company representative to report any damage to your car.
Alabama 20,000 average per year
Connecticut 3,098 (2000)
Delaware 231 (2000)
District of Columbia NA
Indiana 10,904 (1999)
New Hampshire 1,365
New Jersey 20,100 (deer carcasses removed)
New Mexico NA
New York 8,570
North Carolina 12,233 (1999)
North Dakota 3,600
Pennsylvania 2,564 (2000)
Rhode Island NA
South Carolina 3,326
South Dakota NA
Tennessee NA Texas NA
West Virginia NA
(1) 2001 data unless otherwise noted
Source: Insurance Information Institute