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Oh, deer: Repair costs climb even as deer collisions fall

By Donna Fuscaldo Posted : 10/04/2011

Deer collisions and car insuranceDeer everywhere have to be on full alert now that mating and hunting seasons have kicked into full swing. Drivers, too, must be extra vigilant to avoid collisions with deer that can lead to thousands of dollars in car repairs.

November has the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions, according to statistics just released by State Farm, the nation's largest property/casualty insurer. More than 18 percent of all crashes occur in that month. October comes in second, and December is third.

The good news is that the actual number of collisions is declining sharply. There were 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, according to State Farm.

That's down 7 percent from last year and down 9 percent from three years ago. The odds of a vehicle hitting a deer in the next 12 months are highest in the following states:

  • West Virginia (1 in 53)
  • Iowa (1 in 77)
  • South Dakota (1 in 81)
  • Pennsylvania (1 in 86)
  • Michigan (1 in 90)

However, despite the falling collision rates, the news is not all good. The cost to fix a car after a collision with a deer is actually on the rise. According to State Farm, the average property damage cost following a deer accident in the first half of the year increased 2.2 percent from a year ago, to $3,171.

If you collide with a deer, will your auto insurance pick up the repair tab? It depends on the type of coverage you have.

Comprehensive car insurance protects you

The comprehensive coverage option of a car insurance policy reimburses you for repair costs after a collision with an animal.

If you have an older car, you may decide against purchasing comprehensive coverage, figuring it's better to pocket that extra premium for a car that’s not worth much. But that can be a mistake, especially if you live in an area heavily populated by large animals, says Rick Ward, director of auto physical damage at MetLife Auto & Home.

"It's really a personal decision, but people need to be mindful that today's used car values are at all-time highs," says Ward. "Consumers may think their car doesn't have value but it may be worth more than they think."

Before opting out of comprehensive coverage, Ward suggests checking the used-car value via a site such as NADAguides.com or Kelley Blue Book.

If you're renting a car and planning to drive in an area heavily populated by deer, the car should be covered by the comprehensive coverage on your own car's auto insurance policy. Check with your insurance company to find out.

If you don't have comprehensive coverage, consider purchasing protection from the rental agency. You can purchase a loss damage waiver (LDW) from the rental car company. While technically not insurance, a LDW will let you off the hook if the car is damaged. In some cases, these waivers may have a deductible attached. Adding an LDW typically costs between $9 and $19 a day, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Tips for avoiding collisions

By following some simple tips, you can increase your odds of avoiding an accident with a deer or other animal.

  • Deer are most active at dawn and dusk, so you need to be on guard during those hours. Use high-beam headlights at night so you can better see deer entering the roadway ahead of you.
  • Jimmy Spears, assistant vice president of claims at USAA, says you should be "very cognizant" of deer crossing signs and should brake if you see a deer – don't just simply honk the horn to get them out of the way.
  • "Brake, but try not to swerve," notes Spears. "You might hit an oncoming vehicle or end up in a ditch."
  • If you do strike a deer, Spears says to stay in your vehicle. The animal will likely be scared and could jump up or charge, putting you at risk for injury.
  • Ward says it's important to remember that deer travel in herds. If you see one, it's safe to assume more will be following.
  • As for car-mounted deer whistles, Ward says the jury is still out about whether or not these devices actually work.
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