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Deer Present the Greatest Wildlife Threat to Drivers

 Most drivers are surprised to learn that deer are responsible for more vehicular deaths and injuries than any other animal in the United States. The average deer weighs between 125 and 300 lbs. and stands about 3.5 feet at the shoulder. That’s a considerable object to hit while traveling at a high rate of speed, plus the driver runs the real risk of not killing the animal. If the deer is thrown through the windshield and is still alive, its hooves are sharp as razor blades and can inflict serious, even fatal injuries to the human body. 

 While only 2% of collisions between a deer and a car result in a human fatality (about 200 per year), approximately 29,000 people are injured annually as a result of such car accidents with the subsequent auto insurance claims totaling in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion. (When the collision is between a deer and a motorcycle, the human fatality ratio jumps to 85%.) The average damage per incident to a car is approximately $2,800. Multiply that by the 1.7 million collisions reported yearly, and the 2 million or so that go unreported, and the figures in terms of cost and potential for human injury or death are startling. This may explain why auto insurance quotes may be higher in rural areas where the danger of deer collision incidents is statistically relevant.

 More than 50% of car accidents involving wildlife occur when the driver swerves to avoid hitting the animal. Take a case in point. On January 27, 2008 a minivan driven by 37-year-old Michael Betts, Jr. lost control when he attempted to avoid hitting several deer on Interstate 80 near Odessa, Nebraska. Betts did hit one of the animals, however, at which time the minivan was struck from behind by a truck pulling a trailer. The minivan rolled and landed in the ditch killing the driver's 14-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

 The months between October and December are the most dangerous for deer-related accidents. In some areas, drivers face less than a 1 in 3 chance of being involved in such a collision. There are a number of considerations to remember and precautions to take when driving in an area with a heavy deer population:

     •         Deer are most active early in the morning and during the evening hours.

•         Drive with your high beam headlights whenever possible and be alert to movement and deer eyes along the side of the road.

•         If one deer crosses the road assume there will be others. They usually travel in groups.

•         Do not swerve when you see a deer and slow your vehicle gradually. A sudden change in the sound of your engine or the course of your vehicle will panic the animal and cause it to bolt across the road.

•         Always wear your seat belt.

•         When striking a deer is inevitable, hold your car steady and make the hit as direct as possible.

 When you have stuck a deer and you have stopped to assess the damage to your vehicle:

•         Do not approach the animal or touch it. If the deer is still alive it will be frightened and in pain. A deer’s hooves are extremely dangerous as are the antlers on a buck.

•         Pull your car off the road and turn on your hazards to warn other vehicles.

•         Call the police, especially if the carcass presents a danger to other drivers or if the wounded animal must be destroyed.

 While various devices exist that purport to frighten deer away from moving vehicles and lessen the chance of a collision, nothing replaces sound driving habits and vigilant driving, especially during peak deer season and at dangerous times of the day.

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