Deer, Oh Dear! How to Avoid Damaging Deer-vehicle Collisions

We get many calls from people who have been injured or suffered property damage due to a deer-vehicle collision. Bambi may seem sweet and harmless in the movies but meeting him on a highway with your vehicle could be a damaging encounter for both of you.

Deer-vehicle collisions are dangerous and expensive

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) estimates that there are around 1.6 million deer-vehicle collisions annually in the United States, causing 150 deaths and costing billions of dollars in medical treatment for injuries, death and property claims. The I.I.I. estimates each deer-vehicle collision claim costs around $3000, assuming no serious injuries or death, so that’s a pretty pricey wildlife encounter.

In Kentucky, there were 14,947 deer-vehicle collisions causing 768 injuries and 8 deaths during the five-year timeframe from 2009 – 2013 according to Kentucky State Police accident records. Kentucky has a lower collision rate than some states, but since we have a large deer population getting squeezed from their natural habitat due to suburban expansion, we should expect collision rates to increase. Knowing what to do may help you avoid a collision, or safely navigate a collision if one occurs.

How to Avoid a Deer-Vehicle Collision

  • Collisions with deer can occur any time of day but deer activity increases at dusk and dawn, and during the night. Deer activity surges during their breeding season from October through January, which is also the peak time for collisions.
  • Drive slowly! Slowing down allows you greater reaction time to brake to avoid a collision. The higher speed you are travelling, the greater the impact and the higher likelihood of personal and property damage. Give yourself as much time as possible to avoid a collision.
  • Pay attention to the road signs warning of deer and other wildlife. These signs are not there simply for your viewing pleasure but serve as warnings to potential animal hazards that could jeopardize your safety.
  • Drive defensively when driving through areas where deer are typically found such as heavily wooded areas, rural areas, and near water. Observe the surroundings on both sides of your vehicle, slow down and look for deer body shapes and for the reflection of your headlights shining in the deer’s’ eyes.
  • Deer sometimes become mesmerized with your headlights, hence the expression, “a deer in the headlights”. Experts recommend flashing your lights to get deer out of its trance-like state, but don’t honk your horn, which may scare the animal and cause it to charge your vehicle or to act erratically.
  • Once you see a deer, expect more deer to be close by. Deer travel in herds so drive very slowly once you see one. Deer, like small children and other animals, are unpredictable and may suddenly jump out in front of you without warning.
  • If you are on a road with more than two lanes, move to the center lane away from deer habitat to reduce the odds of a collision.
  • Drive with your high beam headlights on where possible to expand your field of vision.

What to do, and not to do, if a collision occurs

  • DO NOT SWERVE. If you cannot avoid a collision, brake forcefully, and stay in your lane. By not swerving, you increase your odds of maintaining control over your vehicle and may avoid a more serious accident like impacting a tree or another vehicle, or running your vehicle off the road.
  • Aim for the tail end if you can to try to avoid a full impact with the animal.
  • Duck under the dashboard if you can, or move toward the door pillar away from the center of the vehicle.
  • Always wear your seatbelt and insist everyone in your vehicle do the same. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) found that 60% of the people killed in deer-vehicle collisions were not wearing seatbelts. Passengers themselves can become dangerous flying objects inside the car in a collision so insist they too buckle up for everyone’s safety.

What to do after a collision

  • If there are injuries, call 911 immediately.
  • If your vehicle is operational, move it to the side of the road. Put on your hazard lights and move away from your vehicle to avoid injury if another vehicle does not stop in time and hits your vehicle.
  • Do not touch or go near the deer. If the deer is injured, it may try to kick or bite you because it is afraid. Stay far away from the animal and wait for police to arrive on the scene.
  • If everyone is okay but you have property damage, call the local police. Many insurance companies will deny your claim for damages if no police report is made.
  • It would be so much easier if deer carried their own liability insurance but since they do not, it’s up to you to get a police report, and report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible to recover any losses you may suffer because of the collision.