How to Avoid Collisions With Deer This Fall

These tips will keep you safe and help prevent costly repairs

A deer crossing the road in front of a car with an animal crossing sign behind it. Photo: iStock

Be on the lookout for deer while you are 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 2 million animal collision insurance industry claims for the past year. This marks a 7.2 percent increase over the previous 12 months, according to State Farm. 

MORE ON CAR SAFETY

Animal strike claims typically rise dramatically in the fall, peaking in November, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesman told CR. He explained that insurance claims data from 2006 through 2020 shows claim frequency in November was more than twice the monthly average and nearly 3.5 times the average for August, when such claims are least likely to be filed.

It is clear that deer are more active in the fall, but data from the IIHS shows that animal-related motorist fatalities have been higher in the spring and summer than the fall in recent years—a reminder for year-round vigilance when driving and warning that deer are not the only threat.

See the interactive map below that reveals the chance of hitting an animal in each state.

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 the HLDI.

Consumer Reports analysis shows that 72 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 at those times, Stockburger says.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that about 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from the vehicle leaving the road and striking a solid object, like a tree or telephone pole. Due to the risk of leaving your lane or losing control, and leaving the road, braking in a straight line is better than a sudden swerve in many cases, when staring down a potential animal strike.

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 when hitting another car.
  • Assume they have friends. “Where there’s one, there are 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. State Farm advises, “No scientific evidence supports that car-mounted deer whistles work.”
  • Buckle up. A seat belt is your best defense for minimizing your risk in a crash. An IIHS study found that most of the people killed in animal-vehicle collisions weren’t wearing their seat belts. Motorcycle riders account for more than half the fatalities, and among that group, nearly half the riders who died were not wearing helmets. 

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.

Chances of Hitting an Animal

State Farm’s annual claim study reveals a rather consistent roster of the 10 states with the most animal collisions.

The map below shows the state-by-state likelihood of an impact—just roll your cursor over the state to see its figure.

Drivers have the greatest risk in West Virginia, where the chance of an animal collision was 1 in 37, according to the insurer.

Chances of Hitting An Animal in A Year
2021 Collision Likelyhood
1 in 30
1 in 475
Chances of Hitting An
Animal in A Year
Alabama: 1 in 88
Alaska: 1 in 292
Arizona: 1 in 301
Arkansas: 1 in 70
California: 1 in 260
Colorado: 1 in 179
Connecticut: 1 in 220
Delaware: 1 in 105
Florida: 1 in 306
Georgia: 1 in 83
Hawaii: 1 in 474
Idaho: 1 in 103
Illinois: 1 in 137
Indiana: 1 in 100
Iowa: 1 in 58
Kansas: 1 in 87
Kentucky: 1 in 88
Louisiana: 1 in 149
Maine: 1 in 75
Maryland: 1 in 110
Massachusetts: 1 in 116
Michigan: 1 in 54
Minnesota: 1 in 58
Mississippi: 1 in 59
Missouri: 1 in 74
Montana: 1 in 39
Nebraska: 1 in 95
Nevada: 1 in 430
New Hampshire: 1 in 137
New Jersey: 1 in 173
New Mexico: 1 in 182
New York: 1 in 124
North Carolina: 1 in 77
North Dakota: 1 in 62
Ohio: 1 in 95
Oklahoma: 1 in 101
Oregon: 1 in 180
Pennsylvania: 1 in 54
Rhode Island: 1 in 127
South Carolina: 1 in 71
South Dakota: 1 in 48
Tennessee: 1 in 108
Texas: 1 in 136
Utah: 1 in 166
Vermont: 1 in 113
Virginia: 1 in 74
Washington: 1 in 200
West Virginia: 1 in 75
Wisconsin: 1 in 56
Wyoming: 1 in 58

Top States for Animal Collisions*

The states are listed in order of the likelihood of a driver having hit an animal between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

  • West Virginia: 1 in 37
  • Montana: 1 in 39
  • South Dakota: 1 in 48
  • Pennsylvania: 1 in 54
  • Michigan: 1 in 54
  • Wisconsin: 1 in 56
  • Mississippi: 1 in 57
  • Minnesota: 1 in 58
  • Wyoming: 1 in 58
  • Iowa: 1 in 59

*According to State Farm.

Deer spotted along the road very close to the CR Auto Test Center.

How to Avoid Striking a Deer

More than a million deer are hit by drivers every year. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, a “deer” Consumer Reports expert explains to host Jack Rico what can be done to prevent an accident.


Jeff S. Bartlett

A New England native, I have piloted a wide variety of vehicles, from a Segway to an aircraft carrier. All told, I have driven thousands of vehicles—many on race tracks across the globe. Today, that experience and passion are harnessed at the CR Auto Test Center to empower consumers. And if some tires must be sacrificed in the pursuit of truth, so be it. Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSBartlett).