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Don’t veer for deer   Smart Choices Archive

Don’t veer for deer

Watch out for deer crossing roads and highways


While car-deer accidents occur throughout the year, they are especially prevalent during the fall mating season. The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) records show that there are an average of 21 deer-vehicle collisions in Iowa EACH DAY, resulting in 600 injuries to drivers and passengers each year. In 2003, 10 people were killed as a result of collisions with deer (including four motorcyclists). The Iowa Department of Transportation adds that one out of every nine auto crashes in Iowa involves a deer.

Why are deer-vehicle crashes becoming a greater problem?

  1. Iowa's deer population has more than doubled since 1985, with an estimated number of deer at 400,000 this year, according to Willie Suchy, wildlife division, Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
  2. More Iowans are licensed to drive in Iowa each year, resulting in more miles driven on Iowa roads each year.

If a collision is unavoidable:
The Iowa Department of Public Safety says that in a recent survey, one of three drivers did not know what to do or would take the wrong actions when confronted when an unavoidable car-deer crash. Their program, Don't Veer for Deer, encourages motorists to use these actions when confronted with a deer in the headlights: BRAKE, STEER, and STOP. More details on how to cope with a crash:

  • Do not veer out of your lane. No one wants to hit a deer, but it is better than losing control of your car and injuring yourself or other motorists. Swerving also can confuse the deer as to where to run. (Note: The Iowa Department of Public Safety encourages motorcyclists to steer away from deer to another path of less risk.)
  • Apply your brakes firmly, hold on to the steering wheel, and bring your vehicle to a controlled stop.
  • Do not try to remove a deer from the roadway unless you’re sure it has died. A frightened, injured deer can hurt itself or you.
  • Report the crash to the nearest police agency as soon as possible. Also, be sure to report an accident to your insurance company.
  • If you want to salvage the deer for meat you will need to obtain a salvage license. Your sheriff’s office or police department can help you obtain the license.

To reduce the likelihood of a car-deer collision:

  • Look out for deer all day, and be especially cautious at dusk and dawn when deer are most active. If you see eyes reflected in your headlights, slow down immediately. Fall and spring are times when deer move more frequently and at different-than-normal times of the day and night.
  • Be extra vigilant and reduce your speed in areas around deer-crossing signs. Remember that signs may not always be present where deer cross.
  • Be aware of typical deer habitat such as wooded areas or natural grass fields. Remain alert while traveling on roads that pass through these kinds of areas and in any area where you have seen a deer before.
  • Statistics indicate most car-deer crashes occur near bridges or overpasses. Deer also follow railroad tracks, streams and ditches, so be alert where these intersect roadways.
  • Remember that car-deer accidents even happen in the middle of towns and cities.
  • Keep in mind that deer are herd animals and frequently travel together. If you see one, more are nearby. Remember that a deer crossing in front of you may double-back.
  • If you see a deer on the road or heading toward the road, give the horn one long blast. The sound gives the deer an audible signal to avoid.
  • Always wear your seat belt! It is your best defense in any collision. Most people injured in car-deer crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
  • Always drive defensively and within posted speed limits.
  • Increase the distance between your vehicle and other cars; if the car ahead of you hits a deer, you may become involved in the accident.

Insurance coverage if you're involved in a collision with a deer:
If you hit a deer, you will very likely have extensive damage to your vehicle. The Iowa Department of Public Safety estimates the average loss per crash at $1,700 for a total of $13 million in total vehicle damage in Iowa each year.

You may want to check on your insurance coverage before you hit a deer. According to Tom Alger, communications director, Iowa Insurance Division, "Some consumers don't realize that Collision insurance does not cover damages when a car hits a deer. Auto owners should check the declarations page of their policy to see if they have the appropriate Comprehensive Coverage. The additional premium is usually minimal, but well worth the cost if you are involved in an accident."

In addition, Bill Shrum, State Farm agent in Ames, Iowa, cautions that as a vehicle ages, many auto owners may drop either Collision or Comprehensive insurance as a cost-saving measure. In that case, there will be no coverage if the vehicle hits a deer. He also strongly recommends that vehicle owners carry Medical coverage on their auto insurance in case drivers or passengers are injured in any accident. "It is not required by Iowa law, but is recommended because you don't know what medical insurance your passengers might carry on their own," says Shrum.

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