Fear the deer!

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While the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists over the past five years has increased just 2%, the number of deer-vehicle collisions during that time has grown by ten times that amount.” –from research conducted by insurer State Farm

Though I tried for a little humor in my headline for this particular post, deer-vehicle collisions are no laughing matter. My sister hit a deer in West Virginia a few years back (which dominates the list of states where such collisions are most likely to occur, as we shall see) and if it wasn’t for the “cow catcher” on the front of her old two-door Explorer, she would’ve been in a world of hurt.

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Take this statistic for instance: according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause about 200 fatalities each year. And in a recent study conducted by insurance giant State Farm, the average property damage cost of deer-vehicle collisions is up 1.7% from last year, totaling $3,103.

Of course, if a big rig hits a deer, the deer is going to lose in a big way (no pun intended). Yet such a collision could cause a tractor-trailer to jack knife or (even worse) roll over depending on the accident conditions, vehicle speed, etc.

The reason I’m even bringing this topic up is that State Farm’s research indicates deer-vehicle collisions are increasing rapidly – and that the chances of drivers of all manner of vehicles hitting a deer are growing as well.

Using its claims data, State Farm estimates 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. during the two-year period between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010 – a 21.1% from just five years earlier.

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State Farm is also using a new method to calculate the statistical odds, on a state-by-state basis, of drivers hitting a deer – using its claims data in conjunction with state licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration.

State Farm added that it changed its methodology for computing the likelihood of deer-vehicle collisions.

Now the comapnyuses the number of licensed drivers, instead of number of registered vehicles, to get a better reading on the likelihood of collisions with a deer over a 12 month period.

For the fourth year in a row, State Farm said West Virginia tops the list of those states where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer, with the chances a driver striking a deer over the next 12 months at one in 42.

Iowa is second on the list at one in 67, with Michigan (1 in 70) in third. Fourth and fifth on the list are South Dakota (1 in 76) and Montana (1 in 82). Pennsylvania is sixth, with North Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Minnesota rounding out the top 10 (and you can click here to view a map that lays out the odds for every state in the union.)

The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii (1 in 13,011), State Farm noted, with the odds of a Hawaiian driver hitting a deer between now and 12 months from now roughly equivalent to the odds of finding a pearl in an oyster shell.

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Another reason for this post: we’re in the “prime season” for deer-vehicle collisions, as they are more frequent during the deer migration and mating season in October, November and December. And why are such collisions becoming more frequent? Well, State Farm’s analysis pins the blame on a combination of growing deer populations alongside the displacement of deer habitat caused by urban sprawl.

The insurer also offers some tips on how to avoid deer-vehicle crashes as well:

• Remember that deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.

• Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.

• Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds – if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.

• Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles.

• If a deer collision seems inevitable, attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or place you in the path of an oncoming vehicle.

State Farm’s study is also another reminder to be careful out there while travelling the roadways as we head into the long, darker days of fall and winter.

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