Deer in the headlights, more now than usual
To everything there is a season, and Kentucky’s drivers must once again brace themselves for the annual three-month surge in roadway encounters, and collisions, with the most dangerous animal in the United States – the white-tailed deer.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that each year white-tailed deer cause car accidents across the nation that are responsible for tens of thousands of injuries and the deaths of approximately 200 Americans. Those collisions also carry the hefty price tag of $4.6 billion in insurance claims annually.
Vehicular collisions with deer increase in conjunction with the annual peak season for deer migration and mating. Kentucky’s exploding deer population has only increased the opportunities for these accidents to occur. Deer are naturally on the move during this season, and urban sprawl has introduced many new roads into the wooded habitats of these animals. Consequently, deer are seen and struck on the roadways during the last three months of the year almost more often than all the other nine months combined.
Kentucky State Police (KSP) data reports that Kentuckians were in a total of 2,798 automobile collisions with deer last year (178 fewer than in 2011), resulting in 140 injuries but no deaths. However, the KSP reporting also shows that these collisions have clearly defined seasonal peaks. In 2012, more than 47% of all collisions with deer in Kentucky took place during the final three months of the year, and 24.3% of the annual statewide deer collision total was reported in November alone.
Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Insurance claims data also strongly supports the concept of seasonal peaks in deer collisions. Approximately $18.4 million in deer collision claims were filed with KFB in 2012, but more than 45% of those claims resulted from accidents occurring in the three-month peak season of October, November and December.
Furthermore, analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute reveals that an average of 14.1 animal collisions per 1,000 drivers occurs nationally each November. KFB Insurance claims data shows that drivers statewide well-outpaced the national average last November, hitting deer on roadways at a clip of 26.83 per 1,000 drivers. As a result of those collisions, KFB Insurance customers filed more than $4 million in claims just during November.
“Looking at numbers historically we can easily predict deer collision claims are going to rise dramatically in the fall and peak in November,” said Bill Reddington, KFB’s Director of Actuarial Services, “but we are also careful to remember that these are not just numbers. These are real people experiencing real accidents. We hope that by calling attention to this annual spike in deer strikes we can increase driver awareness and help prevent tragedy on Kentucky’s roads.”
As October is now here, Kentucky’s drivers are entering the peak three-month season for deer collisions. Motorists need to be aware of this hazard and recognize that they are twice as likely as usual to hit a deer on the road in the months of October and December. In November that probability climbs higher still as drivers in most Kentucky counties are three or more times as likely to collide with a deer on the road.
With the anticipated jump in activity from deer found on the roadways, motorists should drive slower and be aware of their surroundings even more than usual. Deer are most likely to be seen at dusk and dawn near tree-lined roadways or areas that transitions from open fields to forest or water, but drivers must remember that deer are wild animals and often exhibit unpredictable behaviors when on or near road.
KFB advises motorists to drive defensively on the roadways this fall, especially when headed into wooded areas where deer are prevalent.
Tips to help drivers avoid deer collisions:
Watch for deer crossing signs. These signs are posted to warn drivers that certain stretches of the road are commonly populated with deer. Do not ignore the warning.
Be aware of the time. Deer are most commonly seen along roadways in the early morning and evening hours. Exercise additional caution if traveling during these times of day.
When driving after dark, use high-beam headlights to increase the range of vision.
If a deer is spotted on or near the road, slow down immediately.
Don’t swerve if a deer is in the road. Brake firmly but keep the vehicle headed in a straight line. A swerving vehicle can confuse the animal and prevent it from picking a direction to flee, and, worse yet, the driver could lose control and hit a tree or another car.
Always wear a seatbelt. The Kentucky State Police says that most people injured or killed in automobile collisions with deer are not wearing seat belts.
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