Deer in the Headlights: Avoiding Animal Collisions

Hitting a deer or other large animal with your car is disturbing and dangerous — and more common than you might think. Nationally, there were 2.1 million insurance claims for animal collisions from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, an increase of more than 7% over the previous 12-month period. About two-thirds of these were collisions with deer. 1

Of course, some areas of the country have more exposure to animals on the road than others. In West Virginia, 1 out of 37 drivers filed a claim for an animal collision during the July 2020 to June 2021 period. In Montana, it was 1 in 39. Other states with a high probability of an animal collision include South Dakota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Iowa.2

Avoid Animals, but Protect People First

Obviously, collisions are bad for the animal, but they can also be devastating for humans. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 200 people died in animal collisions in 2020 (most recent data).3

In many regions of the country, deer migration and mating season occurs from October through December, so drivers should be especially careful during these months.4 Collisions can occur at any time of day, but the highest risk is before and after sunrise, and from 6 P.M. to 9 P.M.5

Keep in mind that deer are not the only animals that may cause collisions. Depending on where you live, you may need to watch out for elk, moose, caribou, antelope, bears, stray cattle, coyotes, wild pigs, and large birds. Here are some tips that might help you avoid a collision with a deer or other large animal.

  • Proceed with caution. Road signs serve as a warning that deer and other animals frequent the area. Pay attention to the signs and consider reducing your speed. You probably know whether deer are common in your own area, but if you’re traveling, be especially cautious when driving through regions with large deer populations, whether they are marked by signs or not. Roads through wooded areas or roads dividing agricultural fields from wooded areas may be more hazardous.
  • Be aware of animal behavior. Deer may appear near busy roads in cities and suburbs, not just in rural areas. They can be unpredictable and may suddenly dart into traffic if startled by lights, sounds, or unexpected movements. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one, watch closely for others that may be nearby.
  • Drive defensively. If an animal appears in your path, brake firmly but try not to swerve. An animal collision is dangerous but hitting another car or running off the road could be worse. One long blast of your horn might scare animals off the road. If you are traveling at night, your high-beam lights could trigger animals to flee and help you spot animals in the road ahead.
  • Don’t panic. If you hit a deer or other large animal, remain calm and try to move to the side of the road. Check your car for damage if you can do so safely. Do not approach the injured animal — it could act unpredictably. Call 911 if the animal is injured, blocking the roadway, or poses a danger to other motorists. The police will call the proper authorities. You may also need to fill out a police report.
  • Don’t swerve for small animals. Many small animals might wander onto the road, such as skunks, opossums, armadillos, hedgehogs, porcupines, and domestic dogs and cats. It’s natural to want to swerve to avoid any animal, but remember that swerving may put you, your passengers, and other motorists in danger.
  • Use common safety sense. The same precautions that apply to all driving situations might protect you in an animal collision. Most people who did not survive crashes involving animals were not wearing seatbelts. Motorcyclists are especially vulnerable and should always wear a helmet.6

Review Your Comprehensive Insurance

Animal-vehicle collisions can be expensive. The average national cost per claim was $3,875 in 2018 (most recent data).7 The average cost of automotive bodywork has increased by more than 27% over the last four years, so it's likely that repairing damage from an animal collision would be even more expensive today.8

The collision portion of your auto insurance typically does not cover damage caused by animal collisions. You need comprehensive coverage to help pay for this type of accident. Comprehensive coverage also helps cover theft and damage to your car resulting from fire, vandalism, falling or flying objects, explosions, earthquakes, and weather-related risks such as wind, hail, and flood.

If you’re involved in an animal collision and have comprehensive coverage, you need to file a claim and pay the deductible. After that, your insurance company should pay your claim up to the policy limits.

Auto lenders may require that you have comprehensive coverage, but it is optional if you own your vehicle outright. Some policyholders choose to waive this coverage in order to reduce premiums. In most cases, however, premiums for comprehensive coverage are fairly low, considering the variety of situations covered. Check with your insurance professional to make sure you have appropriate coverage for your needs.