Deer in your headlights? Animal strikes spike in fall in Virginia
Fall is officially here and AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning drivers to be more cautious on the roads.
Deer mating season is beginning and October, November and December are the most dangerous months in Virginia for motor vehicle collisions with animals. A collision with a deer or other animal can put a serious dent in a vehicle, if not destroy it completely, possibly resulting in serious injuries or fatalities.
According to 2019 crash data provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 6,523 crashes involved deer collisions, with the majority (53%) of incidents (3,477) happening in the last three months of the year. Virginia saw an 11% increase in deer crashes and a 16% increase in injuries compared to 2018.
“Animal-vehicle collisions start to increase in October and peak in mid-November,” said Morgan Dean, Senior Public Affairs Specialist for AAA. “For that reason, drivers need to be even more cautious and alert behind the wheel, especially at dawn and dusk, which can be the times for high levels of deer activity.”
“Deer and other animals can be unpredictable and might dash out in front of your vehicle. But there are actions you can take to help prevent a crash or reduce the damage from an animal collision,” noted Dean. “First and foremost, drivers and passengers should always wear a seat belt and take steps to avoid distractions behind the wheel.”
A Costly Crash: Are You Covered?
While any animal on the road can be dangerous, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in 150 human deaths and tens of thousands of injuries. Crashes involving deer can pose great risk to drivers, but even a crash in which no one is injured can be costly. AAA Insurance reports the average deer-related claim in Virginia in 2018 was $3,956.
- Collision coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with an object (e.g., a telephone pole, a guardrail, a mailbox), or as a result of flipping over.
- Comprehensive coverage is for damage to your car covered by disasters “other than collisions,” contacts (in this case, contact/collision with animals) and are paid for under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.
In the event of a collision with an animal, AAA recommends:
- Following the collision, call the police.
- Avoid making contact with the deer/animal. A frightened or wounded animal can hurt you or further injure itself.
- Put the vehicle’s hazard lights on; whether it’s light or dark outside.
- If possible, immediately move the vehicle to a safe location, out of the roadway, and wait for help to arrive. Your safety and the safety of your passengers is most important.
- Contact your insurance agent or company representative as quickly as possible to report any damage to your car. Collision with a deer or other animals is covered under the comprehensive portion of your automobile policy.
To report a dead deer for removal from Virginia state maintained roads, drivers can call the Virginia Department of Transportation customer service center at 1-800-367-7623 or submit a request online at my.vdot.virginia.gov.
AAA offers safety tips to help prevent a crash or to reduce damage from an animal collision:
- Pay attention to road signs. Yellow, diamond-shaped signs with an image of a deer indicate areas with high levels of deer activity.
- Don’t drive distracted.Continually scan roadways.Drivers should continuously sweep their eyes across the road in front of the vehicle looking for signs of animals and movement. Animals may also travel alongside the road, so make sure to look along both sides of the roadway, as well. While the most likely crash happens when drivers strike an animal, on occasion the animal may run into the vehicle.
- Be especially attentive in early morning and evening hours. Many animals, especially deer, are most active from 5-8 a.m. and 5-8 p.m., prime commuting times for many.
- Use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic. You can spot animals sooner. Sometimes the light reflecting off their eyes will reveal their location.
- Slow down, and watch for other deer to appear. Deer rarely travel alone, so if you see one, there are likely to be more nearby.
- Slow down around curves. It is harder to spot animals when going around curves.
- One long blast. A long blast on your horn may frighten animals away from your vehicle.
- Resist the urge to swerve: Instead, stay in your lane with both hands firmly on the wheel. Swerving away from animals can confuse them so they don’t know which way to run. It can also put you in the path of oncoming vehicles or cause you to crash into something like a lamppost or a tree.
- If the crash is imminent, take your foot off the brake: during hard braking the front end of your vehicle is pulled downward which can cause the animal to travel up over the hood towards your windshield. Letting off the brake can protect drivers from windshield strikes because the animal is more likely to be pushed to one side of the vehicle or over the top of the vehicle.
- Always wear a seatbelt. The chances of being injured when hitting an animal are much higher if you do not have your seatbelt on.
- Drivers should consider purchasing comprehensive insurance, if they don’t already have it. Comprehensive insurance is the type of insurance that covers animal strikes.