Car vs. deer crashes can happen anytime, anywhere. But the chances that Minnesota drivers will be involved in such a mishap are highest in November as deer enter their mating season and become more active.
The risk does not drop much when the calendar flips to December, another active month for deer and car crashes. And the odds remain high during the other 10 months of the year, too. Minnesota ranks ninth among states in which a motorist is most likely to collide with an animal — usually a deer — according to State Farm's annual analysis of vehicle-animal crash claims data.
The insurance giant says that 1 of every 64 drivers in Minnesota will hit an animal in the next 12 months. In Wisconsin, it's a 1 in 57 chance; in South Dakota, 1 in 53.
By comparison, U.S. drivers on average have a 1 in 116 chance of a collision with an animal, State Farm said.
Why so high here? Minnesota's deer population is stable or trending upward throughout much of the state, said Barbara Keller, big game program leader for the Department of Natural Resources.
But deer aren't just in rural areas, the state's Office of Traffic Safety said. In recent years, more deer have been spotted in urban areas, raising the odds of a collision.
A Farmers Insurance study found two-thirds of motorists believe swerving or trying to stop short is the best strategy when encountering a deer on the road. Don't do it, said Kelly Pargett, a State Farm spokeswoman. "They may miss the deer, but may swerve into oncoming traffic or drive off a cliff or bridge," she said.
Drive reader Mary wanted to know if insurance would cover her if she swerved but hit a deer.
It's always best to check with your insurance agent, but "auto accidents involving animals are, generally, covered under comprehensive or 'Other Than Collision' coverage on a personal auto policy," said Jim Taylor, chief claims compliance officer at Farmers. "If a driver does take evasive action to avoid an accident but strikes an animal anyway, the loss would generally still be covered."
Here are some other tips and suggestions to avoid car-deer mishaps, offered by traffic safety experts and insurance specialists.
Drive like a Boy Scout: Be prepared. Wear a seat belt and slow down, particularly in wooded and agricultural areas where deer are plentiful. Heeding deer crossing signs is a good idea, too.
Find middle ground: On a multilane road, stick to the middle. That provides more time to avoid hitting an animal that's crossing, whether coming from the left or right.
Improve night vision: Deer and other animals are most active between dusk and dawn, so use high beams to illuminate the road, provided there's no oncoming traffic. Or just drive during the day when visibility is better.
Think twice: Deer often travel in pairs or packs, so if you see one, expect others to follow. Scan the shoulders of the road and look for reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes. If anything looks suspicious, slow down.
Expect the unexpected: Deer are unpredictable. They stop in the middle of the road when crossing and occasionally cross and quickly recross. Use your horn to coax them off the road, but don't try to drive around deer.
If you do crash: Pull your car to safety, call 911 and stay away from the animal. It may panic and cause more harm to you or your vehicle.
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