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Are deer putting you at risk? Call it Bambi's
The Michigan Deer Crash Coalition estimates that one in seven reported crashes in that state involves a deer -- one every eight minutes.
And the totals may be even higher: Informal surveys suggest that nearly as many collisions go unreported, either because the owner isn't required to by law or because he doesn't have insurance.
Unfortunately, say the experts, there are no silver bullets to reduce the risk. At times and places where deer present a significant risk, avoiding a collision can just come down to common sense -- and cautious driving.
Assessing the risk
The problem intensifies during so-called deer season -- from October through December -- when there is a dramatic increase in the movement of the deer population. Many of these deer find their way onto highways and into suburban neighborhoods.
Of course, some states experience more collisions with deer than others. According to claim statistics from State Farm, the country's biggest auto insurer, the states with the highest number of accidents involving deer between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, were:
Worst states for deer collisions
The average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is about $2,600, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says. With injury claims, the total reaches $11,000 per collision, the Insurance Information Institute says.
What works? Not whistles
Few strategies for preventing deer-car collisions actually work, according to a 2003 IIHS study. It described deer fences -- chain link and at least 8 feet high -- as the only guaranteed way to keep deer off roadways.
Other methods that may prove effective, the study said, include clearing ground alongside roads so that drivers will see nearby deer, and temporary signs (not the permanent, roundly ignored "Deer Crossing" markers) along migratory routes. A more expensive approach is installation of sensors that activate signs when deer approach.
The study firmly rejected "deer whistles" (whistles mounted on a car that produce an ultrasonic noise when a vehicle moves) as a deterrent.
Dealing with deer
There are, however, several things drivers can keep in mind to reduce their risk of colliding with a deer -- or to increase their safety in the event of a crash.
The first is obvious: Drive with caution when moving through deer-crossing zones, in areas known to have a large deer population or in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forest.
Other things to keep in mind:
Deer often move in groups. If you see one, there are likely more in the vicinity. They tend to move in single file.
When driving at night, use high-beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway.
Be especially attentive from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise. These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.
Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. A deer typically weighs less than 200 pounds; another car will weigh at least 3,000 pounds. Your chances are a lot better if you hit the deer.
If you hit a deer, pull well off the road and turn on your emergency flashers.
Even if you are uninjured and your car is drivable, notify the police if the animal remains in the road. Don't try to remove a deer from the road unless you are sure that it is dead. An injured deer can thrash its hooves and severely injure you.
Report the incident to your insurer. Typically damage is covered by the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.