1.5 million car crashes happen every year on American roadways. But while the more common 2-car crash certainly accounts for many accidents, more than a third of car crashes in the U.S. are the result of incidents such as hitting road debris or hitting animals. In fact, a startling number of car crashes are collisions involving deer. Such crashes account for 150 deaths annually.
With the weather now getting colder, and the days shorter, don't be surprised to spot more deer on your journey: it's mating season. Now, more than ever, it’s time to drive with added caution. Drive purposefully and buckle up!
An Alarming Trend
Across New England and other, colder regions, coming across deer on the road is not uncommon. West Virginia, for example, ranks highest in the U.S. for deer-vehicle collisions. Here, State Farm Insurance estimates that 28,254 claims will be made in 2015-16, giving a West Virginian a 1 in 14 chance of striking a deer.
Experts recommend that those traveling in areas with high wildlife populations consider deer accident coverage on their insurance policies – and for good reason. Currently, the average cost of damage per car is $4,000. But, of course, the results of these accidents can be even more devastating than property damage when a deer or human is injured or, worse, killed.
But why are more animals, including deer, wandering onto our highways?
Heather Laman, owner of Tom Shockey Collision in Pennsylvania, says that her shop has already handled 10 deer accidents in the last month. And mating season isn’t the only explanation. “The animals also are driven onto the roadways by hunters and farmers harvesting their crops,” she says.
Pennsylvania ranks third in the states in deer collisions; PA drivers even have a 6 percent higher chance of hitting deer this year than in 2015. But apparent statistics from state to state may only be the tip of the iceberg, because not all deer collisions are reported.
What Can Be Done?
When a deer runs into the road out seemingly of nowhere, it can be difficult to react quickly. But that's what makes it all the more important to be alert and drive carefully at all times.
Speeding, alcohol impairment, and distracted driving are all factors causing a significant rise in traffic accidents this year. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported, this increase has seen no less than 8 percent more fatalities on the roads.
Considering distracted driving is usually influenced by something as senseless as smart phone use, there really is no excuse. Yet, many deer collisions happen for this reason alone.
To avoid these crashes, the obvious rules apply. Wearing a seatbelt and driving more cautiously in low visibility are among the most basic. But drivers should also be aware of surroundings like rural or wooded areas, and the fact that deer are more active during sunrise and sunset. Overall, awareness is key.
AAA spokesperson Kim Schwind says that removing distractions may be the smartest way to save the lives of deer and drivers. “Paying attention and not driving distracted is going to be your best bet for avoiding these collisions,” she said.
But you also need to take certain steps in the event of a deer sighting – some of which are less obvious. Schwind adds: “You do not want to swerve suddenly to avoid a deer that could confuse the animal. You could get into an even more serious crash.” Nebraska Game Parks provides more tips for avoiding deer collisions.
As we approach winter, the thrill of wide open roads or beautiful fall foliage may make taking a road trip, or taking driving less seriously, appealing. But this thrill can quickly turn into a nightmare when wildlife is involved. The priority, to protect yourself and others, is to remain focused.