How, When and Where Deer Cause Costly Insurance Claims

By Mike Heuer

Already known as the state with the highest rate of car-deer accidents, West Virginia also might be the costliest with an average $44 million in auto insurance claims paid annually due to collisions with deer.

Between 2002 and 2009, car-deer accidents annually inflicted an average $44 million in damages covered by auto insurers, according to the West Virginia Insurance Commission. But because state officials only tallied auto insurance claims paid, the actual amount of damages exceeds $44 million when factoring in deductibles and coverage limits. The state has a deer herd of about 1 million.

Passenger vehicle collisions with deer are more frequent during the deer migration and mating season of October, November and December, and the combination of rising deer populations coupled with loss of habitat to urban sprawl are increasing the odds of car-deer collisions in states like West Virginia.

Based on auto insurance claims data from the last half of 2007 and the first half of 2008 and motor vehicle registration counts by state, and insurance officials estimate the odds of a driver in West Virginia hitting a deer over the next year at 1 in 45. A year ago, the odds of hitting a deer while driving in West Virginia were 1 in 57.

West Virginia drivers are about twice as likely to hit a deer while operating a vehicle in the state than a U.S. taxpayer is to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service in 2009 and 1,100 times more likely to hit a deer than win a state lottery if purchasing one ticket per day for the next year.

Michigan drivers face 1 in 78 odds of hitting a deer, placing Michigan second among states where drivers are most likely to hit a deer. Pennsylvania, 1 in 97, Iowa, 1 in 105, and Arkansas, 1 in 108, ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, North Dakota and Virginia rounded out the top 10. Hawaii ranked last among states in which drivers are most likely to strike a deer with odds of 1 in 10,962.

The United States averages about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions every year, killing more than 150 drivers and passengers and causing $1.1 billion in property damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Auto insurance claims data indicate the total number of deer-vehicle collisions in the United States increased nearly 15 percent from five years ago. The average auto insurance claim from car-deer accidents during the past year was just over $2,950, up 2.5 percent from a year prior.

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