Cold months are peak season for deer-vehicle crashes, especially given the soaring deer population. Thousands of the 1.5 million drivers who hit deer last year found out the hard way that their auto insurance did not cover damage to their vehicle.
Only comprehensive insurance pays up in such crashes. "Many people are not aware that the collision coverage under an automobile insurance policy does not cover you if you hit a deer," says Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance Jorge Gomez.
Nationally, 36 million auto owners don't have comprehensive insurance, says the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Many drivers drop comprehensive coverage because they decide their vehicles are too old or worth too little to justify the cost.
For example in Michigan, the state with the second-largest number of deer accidents, comprehensive policies dropped by 16,000 in 2003, according to a recently released NAIC report. Insurers say that's risky for vehicle owners in states with large deer populations.
Pennsylvania, which tops the list of states with the most deer-related accidents, is bucking the downward trend. The number of policyholders in the state with comprehensive policies actually increased by 85,000 to 6.3 million in the most recent year available, according to the NAIC. And one Pennsylvania-based insurer says its deer-related accident claims have declined in each of the past two years.
Erie Insurance, which operates in 11 states, credits a driver education program it began in 1999 with helping to avoid crashes. In the past year, its deer-related collision claims declined by 6%, even though more drivers were covered.
Deer crashes result in at least $1.1 billion a year in vehicle damage, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
On average, the collisions cost $2,800 per insurance claim; $10,000 if there is injury to the driver or a passenger, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Lorie Honor applauds Erie's driver education program and is urging a coordinated national campaign by the insurance and highway safety industries and wildlife management to provide Americans with more information and education about deer accidents. "There is a huge hole in public safety," she says. Honor became involved after her brother, Paul Bollmeyer, and two friends were killed in Wyoming in November. Their vehicle hit a deer and spun into the path of a tractor-trailer.
About 200 deaths every year are the result of animal-auto accidents -- most involving deer, according to the federal government data.
To try to reduce deer-related accidents, Erie Insurance
publishes a news release and a policyholder magazine. Advice includes these tips:
*Don't swerve to avoid striking a deer, as that increases the risk of hitting another vehicle or losing control of your car.
*If there is no opposing traffic, use high beams at night to better illuminate deer.
*Don't rely on devices such as deer whistles, which are attached to the outside of a car, to try to scare off deer with an ultrasonic or high-frequency sound. They have not been proved to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
*If a deer remains on the highway after you strike it, report the incident to the game commission or a local law enforcement agency, as the deer poses a danger to other motorists. If the deer might still be alive, don't go near it because a wild animal with sharp hooves can inflict injuries.
(c) USA TODAY, 2007