With daylight fading earlier each evening, more people commute at dusk, the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions. During the final months of the year, with farmers in the fields, the onslaught of hunters, and mating season cause deer to be on the move, especially across two-lane highways.
According to the Claims division at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, deer hit claims nearly double over the average during the months of October, November, and December. In 2012, the monthly average for deer hit claims from January through September was 264. Deer hits rose to 506 in October.
Considering the cost of medical payments and out-of-pocket expenses paid by vehicle owners in addition to vehicle damage, the Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates over $4.1 billion is spent on deer-vehicle collisions in the United States each year. On average, Grinnell Mutual will pay over $2,500 per deer-hit claim this year. Location matters according to the III, which ranks each state for its overall likelihood of collision with deer. Iowa is currently ranked third in the U.S. with one out of 73.4 motorists likely to hit a deer. Nationally, III estimates one out of every 174.0 motorists will hit a deer in the next year. (Click to find out the likelihood of a deer-vehicle collision in your state.)
Don’t veer for deer
The safest thing drivers can do when a deer crosses their path is to brake firmly and hit the deer, despite the natural inclination to swerve. The unintended consequences of swerving are severe.
"A lot of deer hit accidents that involve injuries occur because people swerve to miss the deer, but go into the ditch, roll the vehicle, or hit a solid object. Drivers are better off trying to brake in a controlled manner and keep the vehicle in their lane," says Grinnell Mutual Assistant Vice President of Claims Scott Sharp.
"The best way to minimize damage in all auto accidents is to drive defensively—pay attention, wear your seatbelt, and drive the speed limit," says Sharp.
The following tips should be considered by drivers before getting behind the wheel and traveling in an area where deer activity is high:
- High risk travel times. Deer are nocturnal animals looking for food at night. That means the most dangerous times for driving are at dusk and dawn. Take extra caution, especially around heavily foliaged areas and deer crossing road signs.
- Deer rarely travel alone. If one is spotted, there are likely more nearby, so slow down and look for others.
- Use high beams. The deer’s eyes may reflect the vehicle’s headlights, so use high-beams when there’s no oncoming traffic and watch the ditches while driving.
- Don’t veer for deer. By swerving to avoid a deer hit, drivers are more likely to hit oncoming traffic, road signs, or roll the vehicle. Damage to vehicles caused by swerving is generally covered under collision coverage, in which case the driver may be liable for the damages and injuries sustained by other vehicles. Deer hits, on the other hand, are generally covered with other than collision (OTC), or comprehensive, insurance coverage.
- Brake firmly. The best thing to do if a deer crosses the road or stops in front a vehicle is to brake firmly.
- Don’t try to move the deer. A struck deer may still be alive and could hurt someone. Report the accident to the local authorities, who can remove the deer.
- Make the claim. After a deer hit, drivers should report the claim to their insurance agent.
Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, with headquarters in Grinnell, Iowa, has been in business since 1909 and provides reinsurance and property and casualty insurance products for home owners, farm owners and business owners through more than 1,600 independent agents in 12 Midwestern states. The company is the largest primary reinsurer of farm mutual companies in North America.