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Hitting a deer is no small matter

These mishaps can be dangerous and costly, but fortunately they appear to be on the decline

Hitting a deer with your car or truck can cause extensive property damage and even serious injuries and death. Fortunately, your odds of hitting a deer are on the decline, according to a survey by State Farm Insurance.

In fact, your odds of colliding with a deer in the next 12 months declined from one in 167 last year to one in 174 this year. The biggest drops occurred in North Dakota and Nebraska.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four percent of motor vehicle collisions on U.S. roadways in 2000 involved striking a large animal, primarily a deer. Each year, CDC estimates, 200 people die in these collisions. 

Deer population explosion

An explosion in the nation's deer population – not just in rural West Virginia, where deer-vehicle collisions are highest but in populated suburban areas as well – has increased the risk for drivers. Because insurance companies end up paying for the damage, the industry has tried to raise awareness of the threat and take steps to mitigate it.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is $2,800, 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 $10,000.

Many drivers who have hit deer say the animals appeared in front of their speeding vehicles without warning. By the time they saw the deer it was too late to avoid hitting them.

Most common damage

Hitting a deer at 50 or 60 miles per hour will cause extensive damage to the front end of a vehicle. In most cases there are multiple punctures of the car's radiator, causing coolant to leak out. Driving a car after a deer collision will likely cause overheating and possible engine damage.

Serious bodily injury to vehicle occupants can occur if the deer's body rises over the hood of the car and slams into the windshield. A driver trying to miss an animal in the roadway may lose control or run off the road.

While some deer collisions are impossible to avoid, the III says there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. Keep in mind that autumn – particularly November – is when deer are most likely to run into the path of oncoming cars. From sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise are also the time that deer tend to be on the move.

When you see “deer crossing” signs along the highway, take them seriously. They were probably erected after numerous accidents at that location. The signs are usually placed in areas known to have large deer populations.

The second one is the one you hit

Remember that deer rarely travel alone. If you see a deer cross the road ahead of you, chances are another one or two animals will soon follow. Motorists don't always hit the first deer they see – often it's the second.

When driving at night, turn on your high beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The bright lights may illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway, giving you a earlier warning.

You may see advertisments for deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. III says these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

If you hit a deer, pull over and call the police, just as you would in any other auto accident. Contact your insurance agent or company representative to report any damage to your car. Collision with an animal is covered under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.

Despite the increase in the deer population State Farm estimates the average driver's chances of being in a deer-vehicle collision has actually gone down over the last five years.

“This data is encouraging,” said Chris Mullen, Director-Strategic Resources at State Farm. “We would like to think the attention we call to this issue each fall has had an impact. Obviously there are other factors at play as well.”

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