The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates more than 1.5 million deer collisions take place each year in the United States, costing approximately $1.1 billion in vehicle damage. In Michigan, the Michigan Deer Crash Coalition estimates that one in seven reported crashes in that state involves a deer — one every eight minutes. Informal surveys suggest that the actual number may be quite higher, with nearly as many collisions unreported, either because the owner isn’t required to by law or because he doesn’t have insurance.
The Center for Disease Control has found that one quarter of all animal-vehicle collisions result in human injury. $2,800 is the average cost per insurance claim on a vehicle involved in a collision with an animal. With injury claims, the total reaches $11,000 per collision, the Insurance Information Institute says.
Approximately 200 deaths per year are caused by animal-vehicle collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, up from an average of 119 deaths per year in 1993-1997, and an average of 155 between 1998-2002.
26,190 animal-vehicle collisions were reported on Colorado’s roadways in the twelve years spanning 1993 to 2004. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), October and November see more animal-vehicle collisions than any other time of year. 490 such collisions were reported across the state in October 2004, and 580 in November 2004.
In Colorado, 25 people were killed in animal-vehicle collisions from 1993-2004, 2,266 sustained injuries, and 22,388 experienced property damage, according to CDOT.
A study by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, examined 100 known linkages, or commonly traveled pathways, between animal habitats and found many cross Colorado roads. The study identified the following locations as being extremely hazardous for drivers and wildlife:
I-70 at Floyd Hill/Mt. Vernon Canyon
US 285 at Morrison
HWY 160, Durango to Pagosa Springs and Durango to Mancos
HWY 550, North of Durango and Montrose to Ouray
I-25 Castle Rock to Larkspur
HWY 82 Glenwood Springs to Marble
HWY 36 Boulder to Lyons
The problem intensifies during deer season — from October through December — when there is a dramatic increase in the movement of the deer population. Many of these deer find their way onto highways and into suburban neighborhoods.
Common Sense, Not Bells and Whistles
Few strategies for preventing deer-car collisions actually work, according to a 2003 IIHS study. It described deer fences — chain link and at least 8 feet high — as the only guaranteed way to keep deer off roadways. Other methods that may prove effective, the study said, include clearing ground alongside roads so that drivers will see nearby deer, and temporary signs (not the permanent, roundly ignored “Deer Crossing” markers) along migratory routes. A more expensive approach is installation of sensors that activate signs when deer approach.
The study firmly rejected “deer whistles” (whistles mounted on a car that produce an ultrasonic noise when a vehicle moves) as a deterrent.
Not surprisingly, to decrease the likelihood of hitting deer at times and places where deer are present requires common sense. Drive with caution when moving through deer-crossing zones, in areas known to have a large deer population or in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forest. Deer often move in groups. If you see one, there are likely more in the vicinity. They tend to move in single file.
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. A deer typically weighs less than 200 pounds; another car will weigh at least 3,000 pounds. Your chances are a lot better if you hit the deer.
If you hit a deer, pull well off the road and turn on your emergency flashers.
Even if you are uninjured and your car is drivable, notify the police if the animal remains in the road. Don’t try to remove a deer from the road unless you are sure that it is dead. An injured deer can thrash its hooves and severely injure you.
And finally, report the incident to your insurer. Typically damage is covered by the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.