Cruising to enjoy autumn’s colors? Be on the lookout for deer. Insurance claims for animal collisions rise dramatically in the fall when deer are mating, peaking in November, according to the the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It estimates that more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year in the U.S., resulting in approximately $1 billion in vehicle damage.

A new study by State Farm Insurance underscores the danger in certain states, showing that its claims are up 21 percent over the last five years, even though the miles driven by motorists are up by only 2 percent.

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“Fall brings the dangerous combination of the deer being more active when we’re driving more in dusk or dark, due to the shorter daylight hours. Stay attentive and make use of your high beams whenever you can to see further ahead,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center.

Clearly, these impacts can be fatal to the animals, but the most recent data available from IIHS shows that 186 people were killed in crashes involving animals in 2015.

“The best defense is common sense,” says Russ Rader, IIHS spokesman. “Slow down in areas where deer are prevalent. If you see one deer cross the road ahead, others are likely to follow.” He noted 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.

State Farm’s annual deer claim study reveals a consistent roster of the 10 states with the most collisions, and the latest figures show that there is increased chance of deer-vehicle collisions in those locations.

Top States for Deer Collisions*

  1. West Virginia
  2. Montana
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. Iowa
  5. Wisconsin
  6. South Dakota
  7. Minnesota
  8. Wyoming
  9. Michigan
  10. North Dakota

*According to State Farm.

The map below shows the state-by-state likelihood of an impact; Montana drivers are the most likely, with a 1 in 57 chance of a collision this year. At the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii drivers have just a 1 in 6,832 chance of striking a large animal.

Chances of Hitting a Deer by State.
Infographic: State Farm

How to Avoid Hitting a Deer

There are precautions you can take to help avoid hitting a deer or other animal:

  • Slow down. Watch for deer especially around dawn and between the hours of 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when deer are most active.
  • Be aware. Look out for deer-crossing signs and wooded areas where deer or other animals are likely to travel. And if you travel the same route to and from work every day, you might find deer consistently grazing in the same fields. Make a mental note of when and where you regularly see these animals.
  • Be alert. If you see an animal on the side of the road, slow down, and at night when traffic permits, put on your high beams for greater visibility.
  • Brake, don’t swerve. Swerving to avoid an animal can put you at risk for hitting another vehicle or losing control of your own 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 of surviving an accident are better when hitting an animal rather 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. Even with this precaution, animal behavior remains unpredictable.
  • Buckle up. A seat belt is your best defense for minimizing your risk in a crash. A past Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that 60 percent of the people killed in animal-vehicle collisions weren’t wearing seat belts.

If you hit an animal, move your car safely off the road and call police or animal control. Do not attempt to touch an injured animal. Photograph the scene, then call your insurance company when you get home. Animal collisions are usually covered in your policy. 

A deer walking.
Deer spotted along the road, very close to the CR Auto Test Center.