Autumn Peak Season For Collisions With Wildlife

By Gregg Powers
CARS AND DEER are a lethal combination. During deer season, which generally runs from late September through December, there is a dramatic increase in the movement of the deer population.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in 150 occupant deaths, tens of thousands of injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. The average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is about $2,600, with costs varying depending on the type of vehicle and severity of damage. When you factor in auto claims involving bodily injury, the average rises to more than $11,000, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

“As our wildlife habitat continues to shrink, accidents with deer and other animals are likely to increase. We need to be more vigilant in our driving,” said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokeswoman for the Institute.

There are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of being involved in a deer-vehicle collision. After an aggressive communications campaign to warn policyholders and the public about the hazard, Pennsylvania-based auto insurer Erie Insurance reported a 6 percent decline in deer claim frequency in 2005.

David Crum, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife officer, has seen an increase in wildlife-related vehicle accidents since he started working 4-1/2 years ago.

“I don’t have any statistics or hard facts, but it sure seems like there has been an increase in accidents,” Crum said. “The population of animals is increasing, and we are seeing them more and more in urban areas. We also have more vehicles on the road, and the number of drivers is up, so naturally you are going to see more vehicle versus wildlife incidents.”

The following facts can be helpful in avoiding deer-related collisions:

  • Deer aren’t just found on rural roads near wooded areas. Many deer crashes occur on busy highways near cities.
  • Deer are unpredictable, especially when faced with glaring headlights, blowing horns and fast-moving vehicles. They often dart into traffic.
  • Deer often move in groups. If you see one, there are likely more in the vicinity.

When driving, the III recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Drive with caution when moving through deer-crossing zones, in areas known to have a large deer population, and in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forestland.
  • Always wear your seat belt and stay awake, alert and sober.
  • When driving at night, use high-beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway.
  • Be especially attentive from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise. These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.
  • Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. Many serious crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or lose control of their cars.
  • Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. These devices have not proved effective.
  • In the event your vehicle strikes a deer, try to avoid going near or touching the animal. A frightened and wounded deer can hurt you or further injure itself. If the deer is blocking the roadway and poses a danger to other motorists, you should call the police immediately.
  • Contact your insurance agent or company representative as quickly as possible to report any damage to your car. Collision with a deer or other animal is covered under the comprehensive portion of your automobile policy.

“As long as we keep building and developing areas where these animals live, we’re going to see more and more of them in urban areas,” Crum said. “The best thing to do is to keep a constant eye out for wildlife and remember, when your headlights shine on a deer, it blinds them and they often freeze. So, be careful.” –Kingsport Times News