2 October 2002

Deer Season Driving Safety

A Hagerty client in New York was driving his Best-of-Show 1972 Plymouth ’Cuda  home from a car show one July evening and came upon a deer standing in the center of the dark road. Neither the driver nor the deer flinched. The ensuing collision severely damaged the ’Cuda’s right front fender and grille, with a body shop estimate of more than $5,000.

Car-deer collisions are surprisingly more frequent than you might think. Nationally, about 1.5 million people are involved in deer collisions each year and more than a hundred people die as a result.

According to AAA, almost seventy percent of car-deer accidents occur during October through December when deer are most active, but this doesn’t mean that motorists can let down their defenses in other seasons. Historically, the majority of the car-deer accidents happen between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. or between 5:30 and 8 p.m.—the hours that coincide with dawn and dusk as well as the times that most cars are on the road.

SAFETY TIPS:

  • If you see one deer, slow down. Chances are there is another close behind. Be especially careful in heavily wooded areas, where deer are more prone to dart out in front of the car.
  • Also, use your high beams whenever possible. It will give you a larger field of vision and you’ll have more time to react to animals in the road ahead. It might also help you spot deer at the side of the road before they run across the highway.
  • The best defense is to be prepared. Wear your safety belts.
  • Be extra alert on two lane roads near dawn and dusk. Be particularly alert near deer-warning signs.They are placed at known crossing areas.

Police departments say swerving to avoid a deer is sometimes more dangerous than hitting one. Severe collisions with trees or other cars—or rollover accidents—might result. If you swerve, or skid to a stop, there’s a chance the deer might panic and dart into the path of another vehicle, or back into the path of yours.

So what should you do if a crash with a deer is unavoidable? Brake firmly, keep both hands on the steering wheel, stay in your lane, and sound your horn. In the case of the ’Cuda driver, a firm foot on the brake pedal as soon as the deer was in sight might have given the animal that extra bit of time to get out of the way.

The jury is out on deer whistles, which claim to alert animals that a car is nearby. Some drivers swear by them, claiming they stop deer in their tracks. Others swear at them, asserting they do nothing but panic the deer into stampeding across the road. Then there are yet others who doubt they work at all, saying that the deer don’t hear the whistles until it’s too late.

In the event of a car-deer collision, you will find, as this client did, that such accidents are covered under the comprehensive portion of an automobile policy. Some insurance carriers claim up to one third of all comprehensive losses result from deer collisions.

In instances where you swerve and avoid the animal but end up colliding with something else, such as the ditch, the collision portion of your policy would also apply. Keep this in mind when you set your collision deductible.

And watch out for moose! They usually inflict five times the amount of damage to the vehicle than a deer does. In 1985, the winter in Alaska was particularly bad. By March 13th, 1985, there had been 165 train-killed moose, and on that night, a single moose on the tracks derailed a train, engine, and five coal cars.

Essential tips to avoiding deer car collisions

  • Watch out at dawn and dusk
  • High beams on when possible
  • Slow down!
  • Brake, don’t swerve
  • Honk the horn

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