Less to fear from deer this year

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Urban sprawl means suburbia and deer habitat intersect in many parts of the country, [so] if you're driving in areas where deer are prevalent, the caution flag is out, especially in November.” – Kim Hazelbaker, senior vp for the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Here’s a strange yet positive trend that bodes well for drivers of vehicle large and small: the number of deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. continues to decline, for the third consecutive year no less.

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And this downturn is accelerating – at least, that’s what data gathered by insurance behemoth State Farm seems to indicate, as the percentage decline over the last year is nearly three times as large as during the previous two years combined.

Using its claims data, State Farm estimates 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 – a decline of 9% from three years ago and 7% in just one year.

Among those states in which at least 2,000 deer-vehicle collisions occur per year, Vermont (24%), Michigan (23%), West Virginia (22%) and Connecticut (22%) experienced the largest one-year percentage declines – with 23,000 fewer deer-vehicle altercations in Michigan alone.

Michigan, by the way, is second on the list of states with the highest total number of these collisions (78,304), well behind top-of-the-leader-board Pennsylvania (101,299), State Farm said.

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However, for the fifth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where an individual driver is most likely to run in to a deer, the insurer’s research indicated.

Using its claims data in conjunction with state licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), State Farm calculates the chances of a West Virginia motorist striking a deer over the next 12 months at 1 in 53, an improvement over a year ago when the odds were 1 in 42, but still far and away the riskiest state for a deer-vehicle collision.

Even though Pennsylvania tops the list in terms of the greatest number deer-vehicle collisions, the chances of one occurring are only 1 in 86, putting it fourth on the “risk of collision” list.

By contrast, Iowa remains second on the list, where the odds are 1 in 77, with South Dakota moving up to third place (with a 1 in 81 chance of a deer-vehicle collision). Montana is sixth, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming rounding out the top 10.

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All in all, in eight of the top 10 states (Minnesota and Wyoming being the exceptions), the rate of deer-vehicle collisions per driver went down from a year ago. However, the cost of such collisions (unfortunately) is rising, with the average property damage deer-vehicle collisions during the final half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 up 2.2% to $3,171 per incident.

The state in which deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is still Hawaii (1 in 6,267) – equal to the odds of a Hawaiian driver being a practicing nudist, according to State Farm.

(And how they calculated THAT particular factoid – the odds of a Hawaiian driver being a practicing nudist – we might never know … nor want to know, for that matter!)

Despite the decline in deer-vehicle collisions, though, State Farm emphasizes that drivers should not let down their guard … for November is not far off, and that month represents the heart of both deer migration and mating season. As a result, it’s the month during which deer-vehicle encounters are most likely.

[Below, you can watch an interview from a few years with Fairfax County police back that discusses deer-vehicle collision issues, in which MY hamlet of residence – West Springfield – is highlighted as an area with a growing number of such roadway incidents.]

More than 18% of all such mishaps take place during the 30 days of November, State Farm noted, with deer-vehicle collisions three times more likely to occur on a day in November than they are on any day between February 1st and August 31st.

October is the second most likely month for a crash involving a deer and a vehicle, with the month of December taking third place, the insurer added.

Even though there’s less fear of the deer this year, leaving more drivers in the clear, State Farm offers several tips to help drivers of all vehicles (cars and trucks alike) continue to cut the odds of a deer-vehicle collision:

• Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer crossing areas.

• Remember that deer are most active between 6 p.m. 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 vehicle-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.

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