Don't swerve to miss deer

Photo courtesy of Insurance Information Institute

Drivers are encouraged to be on the lookout for deer, particularly in the months when they are most active from October through December.
Photo courtesy of Insurance Information Institute Drivers are encouraged to be on the lookout for deer, particularly in the months when they are most active from October through December.

Keep your eyes peeled for furry creatures crossing the road, especially if you’re traveling at night and especially if you’re driving through a wooded area.

The Insurance Information Institute says that one out of 167 drivers in the United States filed a claim in 2018 for hitting a deer, elk, moose or caribou. But Iowans are more than twice as likely as an average American to hit a deer, about one in 73. That puts Iowa No. 5 among states with the highest number of deer accidents per capita. The most common is West Virginia, where the probability is one in 46. Going down the list, the rest of the Top 5 are Montana (one in 57), Pennsylvania (one in 63) and Wisconsin (one in 72).

Those probabilities more than double during the months of October, November and December, and there is an increased chance of a collision at dawn and dusk, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS reports that there has been an upward trend in deaths from collisions with animals, increasing from 89 nationwide in 1975 to 223 in 2007. However, the trend has since leveled off and even fallen, dropping to 189 deaths in 2016.

IIHS estimates there are just over 1.3 million collisions with deer annually, with a national cost-per-claim of about $4,300.

Drivers should watch for herds since deer travel in packs. Other useful advice is always wear a seatbelt and use high-beam headlights when possible to spot deer early.

Mark Hamilton of American Family Insurance in Mt. Pleasant said that, in his 33 years in business, he’s surprised that car vs. deer accidents are a year-round occurrence.

“They used to be confined to the spring and fall, but now we see them all the time,” he said. “I will say that it tends to spike in the fall.”

Hamilton’s No. 1 piece of advice for drivers who encounter a deer on the roadway is not to swerve but rather stay in your lane and brake. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that it’s safer because it doesn’t put other vehicles at risk that might be traveling in the oncoming lane.

State Farm’s website concurs, advising drivers to “reduce your speed, honk your horn, and tap your brakes to warn other drivers. If there are no drivers behind you, brake hard.”

Another reason not to swerve that drivers might not think about is that it will be harder to prove the driver swerved to miss a deer as opposed to simply losing control of their vehicle.

“Quite frankly, an insurance company could look at it and say, ‘How do we know you swerved to miss a deer? We don’t know if you were texting or talking on your cell phone when your wheel dropped off the shoulder.’”

Hamilton said that if a person hits a deer, the deer will likely leave hair on the car. That will be evidence the driver can show the insurance company to prove the crash was caused by the deer, and not because they were texting on their cell phone.

Deer are especially active October through December for a number of reasons, chief among them is the rut. The rut refers to the time of year when bucks (male deer) have heightened testosterone and an interest in does (female deer), which in turn makes them less cautious and more aggressive in chasing does.

Hamilton mentioned that another reason deer move around so much during this time of year is that farmers are harvesting their crops, which scares the deer away.

A third reason is that deer are scared out of the woods by hunters. Iowa has a series of deer hunting seasons beginning with the youth season in September and ending with the antlerless harvest in January.

The reason deer are especially active at dawn and dusk is because that is when they feed. According to the insurance company Esurance, deer are most active between 5-8 a.m. and 5-10 p.m.

If a person is unfortunate enough to hit a deer, Hamilton says the first thing to do is get out of the car and assess the damage to determine if the car is safe to drive or if you need a tow truck. Should a motorist call law enforcement? Hamilton said that’s not necessary, at least not for the purposes of filing an insurance claim to American Family Insurance. However, he said some insurance companies require a police report to document the accident, so motorists should check with their insurance company on what it requires.

Ann Williams of Farm Bureau Financial Services in Washington said her company asks the driver for a report, but it’s not necessarily required for the insurance payout. However, all insurance companies require the driver to supply information about the crash. Williams said her company asks for photographs of the damage, if there were any injuries, if the airbags were deployed, if the vehicle is still drivable, and where an insurance adjuster can see the vehicle.

“If it’s an older vehicle or one that has sustained significant damage, the vehicle could be totaled, and in that case, we’d need to get an insurance adjuster involved as quickly as possible. If the driver has an auto rental policy on their insurance, they can get a rental car while their vehicle is in the shop.”

Hamilton said there is a trend toward insurance companies asking body shops to document the damage in a collision and provide an estimate to the insurance adjuster. However, Hamilton said some body shops are pushing back against this trend, since they don’t want to be saddled with that responsibility.

Williams cautions residents about who they let drive their car. If you lend your car to a friend and the friend hits a deer, your insurance will pay, meaning it will go against your payout limits.