West Virginia Still State with Highest Deer-Vehicle Crash Rate

West Virginia has been named the state where drivers are most likely to be involved in a deer-vehicle collision for the sixth year in a row, according to projections based on insurance claims data from State Farm.

In West Virginia, the chance of striking a deer was about 1 in 48 last year, compared with a 1-in-40 chance this year.

The report from State Farm showed that the chances of an average U.S. driver striking a deer have increased since 2010, going from a 1-in-183 chance in last year’s rankings to a 1-in-170 chance in the latest rankings.

The number of deer-vehicle collisions among all states in the U.S. also increased, rising 7.7 percent over the last year, following three years during which the number of those crashes fell 2.2 percent, according to a statement from the insurance provider.

The insurer compiled similar auto claims, which involve collision or comprehensive policies not linked to weather, vandalism, fire or glass claims, over the past four years and found that the number of those claims has shrunk 8.5 percent, while deer-related claims have grown by 7.9 percent.

“I think it’s interesting that, in the context of those other claims, deer claims are increasing,” said Dick Luedke, a State Farm spokesman, in an interview with Online Auto Insurance News. “Those trends of fewer accidents overall don’t apply to confrontations between deer and vehicles.”

In each of the top five states in this year’s rankings—South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—the rate of vehicle-deer crashes was higher than the year before.

Ohio, Michigan Report Drops in Collisions

The trends in the State Farm data have shown some discrepancies with state-level data. One reason for that is state level statistics are grouped by standard calendar years while the State Farm data looks at statistics from July to July. The State Farm numbers are also produced using projections based on internal claims data, while state data are based on crashes reported to police.

Ohio and Michigan, for example, have both reported recent year-to-year drops in deer-vehicle collisions, even though State Farm data reports significant jumps.

In Ohio, the number of deer-related collisions in 2011 dropped 2.2 percent when compared with 2010 figures, meaning the third straight year of fewer crashes of that kind, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.

The Michigan Deer Crash Coalition reported that the number of crashes with deer dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2011. Last year, there were 1,464 injuries and eight deaths stemming from 53,600 collisions with deer, according to the coalition.

In the latest State Farm rankings, based solely on the insurer’s claims data, Michigan ranked 4th out of all states with a 1-in-72 chance a driver strikes a deer over the next year. Ohio ranked 16th with a 1-in-117 chance that a motorist there experiences a car-deer collision.

Insurance Implications of Deer Encounters

Insurers have an interest in car-deer collisions because they can often be pricey. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that the average cost per policy claim is $3,305, a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year.

In Michigan, such costs can be especially high because Michigan car insurance laws mandate that insurers pay for limitless medical benefits over the lifetime of policyholders hurt in crashes.

In Ohio alone, the OII estimates that the 22,690 deer-related crashes last year cost the state’s insurance industry about $70 million.

The cars in the OII’s estimate are assumed to have comprehensive coverage, an optional type of insurance coverage compensating policyholders for incidents including animal-involved crashes and weather damage. A driver lacking comprehensive coverage would have to pay out of pocket to repair a vehicle damaged after crashing into a deer.

Advice for Deer Encounters

Insurers and public safety officials are issuing warnings about deer collisions because mating season, running from October through January, brings out more of those creatures than usual. According to a 2009 analysis from the Highway Loss Data Institute, the peak season for deer-related crashes is November, when claims for such collisions are about three times as high for the month compared with other months.

According to the III, an “explosion in the deer population” is the likely cause of increasing vehicle-deer crashes.

“This trend will only increase as the deer population grows and urban habitats continue to encroach upon rural environments,” the III said in a statement.

The III offered the following tips in deer encounters:

–Be especially aware during dusk until midnight and dawn, the riskiest times for car-deer crashes.
–Slow down when you see deer-crossing signs, which may mean more than one deer crossing a road; deer rarely travel alone.
–Use high-beam headlights to get a better view of the road.
–If encountering a deer, slow to a stop and use your horn in a single, extended blast.
–Do not swerve to avoid deer, as this is more dangerous and can cause a more serious crash.
–Wear your seat belt.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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