by J. Nolan White
Bear attacks? Shark attacks? Forget about it! None can compare to the danger of hitting a whitetail deer on the open road.
You’re driving the speed limit, doing 55 along a tree-lined road. You round a bend and bright eyes glow in your headlights. What’s your reaction? If you’re not prepared, it could make a difference in both your bank account and your health.
According to Steve Guy, Director of the Wildlife and Forestry Division at ALFA Insurance, “The chance of hitting a deer in Alabama is one in 200. Alabama motorists experience 25,000 hits per year at a cost of $84 million. In fact, there was an increase of 25 percent in deer-related auto accidents between 2009 and 2010. Educating drivers is only one of several preventive measures, but it may be the best one. Based on our market share, 60 to 80 deaths or severe injuries per year involve motorists hitting deer on Alabama highways.”
Of all deaths caused by animal-vehicle collisions in the USA, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety estimates that 75 to 80 percent involve deer.
The number of wildlife accidents reported nationally has skyrocketed as well – now representing one out of every 20 reported motor vehicle collisions, which occur every 26 seconds. A State Farm report released in April indicates that while the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists over the past five years has increased just two percent, the number of deer-vehicle collisions in the USA during that time has grown by ten times that amount. Such collisions have climbed 21 percent nationally, totaling 2.3 million between July 2008 and June 30, 2010.
Does that statistic mean that drivers have either become worse at dodging deer; or that more deer are on the roads than ever before? The answer is obvious. One driver has hit so many deer that he named his car “The Deer Slayer.”
Captain Mark Rouleau of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says deer-vehicle accidents appear to be more common this year than in the past. “You could contact wildlife officials to handle an injured deer if it doesn’t flee after being hit.” Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson says reports of such collisions fluctuate in his county. “I have a lieutenant who’s hit several deer in his career, but how many deer are out there depends on the season.”
State Farm estimates that in the 12 months that ended June 30, 2010, there were 1.14 million deer-vehicle accidents, which resulted in $3.8 billion of insurance payouts and driver costs. However, that does not include the cost of accidents in which no claims were made because drivers had no comprehensive insurance on their vehicles; or no insurance at all. That total goes over $4 billion.
Trisha White, Director of the Habitat and Highways Program at Defenders of Wildlife, states that “The annual cost to society is estimated at $8.4 billion.” By reducing the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on our roadways, we will save billions of taxpayer dollars while making our nation’s roadways safer.
Perhaps, as she advocates, a Watch Out for Wildlife Awareness Week initiated by state governors could educate drivers on how to prevent such collisions.
Deer get jittery during the rut as a buck chases a doe through the woods and across open roadways, oblivious to oncoming traffic. Motorists, on the other hand, are often unaware of a deer speeding across a highway until it’s too late. The headlights on a car is blinding to a nervous deer at night. The result is that a deer will run in any direction, even ram into an RV, bus, or a tractor-trailer rig.
Drivers will too often swerve to miss a deer that has scampered into their path, lose control of their vehicle, and crash into a tree near the road. “A deer is much softer on impact than a tree,” says Guy. “That’s why motorcyclists know to aim for the midsection of a deer. It’s something you must consciously do when driving any motorized vehicle.”
Insurance agent Celina Calvert of Foley, Ala., states, “In Baldwin County, a lot of roads go through deer habitats. We at Calvert Insurance understand the risk of accidents involving deer, especially in rural areas. The public should be aware that only comprehensive insurance pays up in deer crashes. Remember, deer are unpredictable animals, so an accident could happen anywhere. They’re very smart too. That’s why we’re seeing them in suburban areas where they feel safer because predators are less likely to hunt them near population centers and heavily traveled roads. That can present a problem for drivers who don’t expect to see deer in their neighborhood at night.”
In most cases, it’s not about how many deer are roaming about; it’s about how many cars are on the road. “The highest numbers of crashes with deer corresponds with the mating season,” adds Calvert. “If you see a single deer, look for others. They’re not solitary animals, especially during the rut.”
Nationally, 36 million auto owners don’t have comprehensive insurance, says the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Many drivers drop comprehensive coverage because they decide their vehicles are too old or worth too little to justify the cost. On average, the collisions cost $2,800 per insurance claim; $10,000 if there is injury to the driver or a passenger, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Add to that the financial and social cost of deer-tick-spread Lyme disease, plus the expense of hauling away deer carcasses, and you realize that Bambi is a Disney creation that you don’t want crashing through your windshield at 55 miles per hour, or even 30.
Suggestions for Avoidance of Deer Collisions:
- Be vigilant near dawn and dusk, the most active time for deer.
- Heed deer crossing and speed limit signs.
- Always wear your safety belt; it reduces your chances of being injured if you hit a deer.
- If you see a deer by the side of a road, slow down and blow your horn in one long blast to frighten it away.
- When you see one deer, look for another; they seldom run alone.
- If a deer looms in your headlights, don’t expect it to move away. Headlights can confuse a deer and cause it to freeze.
- Brake firmly when you see a deer in or near your path.
- Do not swerve. Swerving can confuse the deer and cause you to lose control and hit a tree or another vehicle.
- If you hit a deer, stay in your vehicle. Do not touch the animal. An injured deer can hurt you or itself.
- Get your car off the road if possible and call law enforcement.