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Oh, Deer: Fall is a dangerous time for car collisions with deer

Consumer Reports News: October 05, 2011 02:08 PM

Good news: A new study by insurance company State Farm finds that deer collisions have dropped for the past three years, with the decline over the last year almost three times more than the previous two years combined. The company estimates that 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the United States between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011--down seven percent over last year.

But drivers still need to keep in mind that October, November, and December are prime deer mating and migration season, making this an especially dangerous time for both deer and motorists.

For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where drivers are most likely to come in contact with a deer on the road; in the next 12 months those odds are 1 in 53, which is better than last year where it was 1 and 42. Iowa remains at second (1 in 77), followed by South Dakota (1 in 81), Pennsylvania (1 in 86), Michigan (1 in 90). Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming round the top 10. (See how your state fares in this pdf.)

The state with the least risk of hitting a deer is in Hawaii, with odds of just 1 in 6,267.

However, the cost of property damage for these accidents is up to $3,171, reflecting an increase of over 2 percent from 2010.

Animal-vehicle collisions present a danger to motorists, property, and wildlife, but there are precautions you can take to help avoid having a deer or other animal have an unfriendly encounter with your car.

  • Slow down. Watch for deer especially around dawn and between the hours of 6-9 p.m. when they are most active.
  • Be aware. Look out for deer-crossing signs and wooded areas where deer or other animals would likely travel. And if you travel the same route to and from work everyday, 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. Just slow down as quickly and safely as you can. Your odds of surviving an accident are better hitting an animal than another car.
  • Assume they have friends. The phrase “where’s 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. The whims of wild animals are not beholden to this technology.
  • 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 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. Call your insurance company when you get home. Animal collisions are usually covered in your policy.

You don’t want to collide with a deer and hear yourself saying “The buck stops here.”

Liza Barth

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