Motorists can hit an animal anytime, anywhere, but the odds of that happening in Minnesota are higher than in most other states.
And if it’s going to happen, now is the time. Collisions with wildlife occur most frequently in the fall, and the risk to drivers will be the greatest over the next few weeks as deer breeding season reaches its peak, said Barb Keller, big-game program leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“We have deer moving around more than they do at the rest of the year, especially bucks,” she said. “When they find a female, the chase is on, and they are not always aware of their surroundings.”
Deer by far are the animals most commonly hit, but dogs, cats, squirrels and rats are frequently hit and killed, according to State Farm’s most recent analysis of vehicle-animal crash claims data. The insurance company estimated that U.S. drivers hit 1.9 million animals between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019. In Minnesota, drivers have a 1 in 64 chance of hitting an animal, making it the 10th most likely place for such a mishap, State Farm said.
Farmers Insurance found Minnesota ranks sixth highest in the nation for roadway animal crashes between September and November, with 56% of claims resulting from collisions with animals filed during those three months.
Minnesota’s deer population has recovered from the severe winter of 2012-13 and is estimated be at over 1 million this year, according to Keller. They are most commonly found in and near hardwood forests that stretch from the northwest part of the state to the southeast. But deer are aren’t just out in the country. Last year, motorists hit 132 deer in metro Dakota County — more than anywhere in the state, according to crashes reported to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). Other top places for deer collisions were Hennepin, Carver and Anoka counties in the metro area, plus Sherburne and Stearns counties, DPS records showed.
Deer are unpredictable and can appear out of nowhere, particularly between dusk and daylight when they are most active, said Jim Taylor, head of claims compliance for Farmers Insurance. But should a deer (or other animal) suddenly dart across the road, there are things drivers should and should not do.
As frightening as it sounds, hitting a deer may be the best option. A Farmers’ survey found that more than two-thirds of drivers believe they should swerve to avoid hitting an animal, but that could lead to a much worse outcome, Taylor said.
“Deer can change direction quickly and swerving might not prevent a collision,” said Taylor, who struck a deer a few years ago near Los Angeles. “Swerving might cause a more significant accident with a tree, guardrail or another vehicle.”
Drivers should remain alert in areas marked with deer-crossing signs, slow down, stay toward the middle of the road and, if there is no oncoming traffic, use high beams to illuminate the road.
“The amount of damage often depends on a driver’s reaction and whether they slow down, rather than the size of the animal,” said Holly Anderson, a State Farm spokeswoman.
Drivers who strike a deer should move to the side of the road, call law enforcement and their insurance company — and maybe think about what to do with the deer.
“State troopers carry deer possession tags that we can issue to a person who would like to keep the deer,” said Lt. Gordon Shank of the Minnesota State Patrol.
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