November 13, 2008

Hunters Not Only Ones On Look Out For Deer

It seemed like an innocent trip down Highway 15 to Memphis, when suddenly a deer appeared in the headlights, leaving the driver no time to react.

Joan Combs, 62, of Bellevue, IA, was lucky, she wasn’t injured when her 1992 Dodge Caravan struck the deer four miles north of Memphis at 8:05 p.m. on November 9th. The van’s airbag deployed after the impact with the animal caused extensive damage to the front of the vehicle.

November is the peak month for vehicle-deer collisions, as the animals enter the breeding season and react to hunting pressure.

“During this time of year, deer are more active, especially during evening and nighttime hours,” said Chery Cobb, public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “Drivers are urged to be aware of behavior changes of deer associated with this time of year. It’s mating season, which may cause an increase in roadway crossings. Hunting and crop harvesting may cause these animals to be in places they aren’t usually seen.”

While the message is an annual event this time of year, a new analysis of insurance claims and federal crash data indicate the problem is growing. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), recently examined insurance claims for animal strikes under comprehensive coverage month by month from January 2005 through April 2008. The main finding is that insurance claims for animal collisions are nearly 3 times higher during November than the typical month earlier in the year. For example, for every 1,000 insured vehicles 14 claims were filed in November 2007 compared with an average of 5 claims per 1,000 during January-September. Insurance claims usually don’t specify the animal involved, but other data show that deer are the main ones.

According to the Highway Patrol last year, Missouri had 3,419 traffic crashes where deer-vehicle strikes occurred. One deer strike occurred every 2.6 hours in the state. In these crashes, five people were killed and 351 injured. One person was killed or injured nearly every day.

State Farm, the nation’s largest auto insurer, estimates that there were more than 1.2 million claims for damage in crashes with animals during the last half of 2007 and the first half of 2008. The company says animal strike claims have increased 14.9 percent over the past 5 years.

Most vehicle-animal collisions aren’t severe enough to injure people, but data from the federal government show that crash deaths are increasing. In 1993, 101 people died in crashes involving animals. By 2000, the number was 150, and in 2007 it was 223.

The states with the largest number of total deaths are Texas with 227 deaths during 1993-2007, Wisconsin with 123, and Pennsylvania with 112. Missouri recorded 69 fatalities during this time period.

“The months with the most crash deaths coincide with fall breeding season,” Anne McCartt, IIHS’s senior vice president for research, points out. “Crashes in which people are killed are most likely to occur in rural areas and on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher.”

“A majority of the people killed in these crashes weren’t killed by contact with the animal,” McCartt said. “As with other kinds of crashes, safety belts and motorcycle helmets could have prevented many of the deaths.

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