Deer, with their big eyes and fluffy white tails, may look innocent enough. But they kill more Americans than any other animal.
Not that they mean to. These deaths occur when cars driven by people crash into deer that are crossing roads. And they’re especially likely to happen over the next three months, when deer are friskily roaming around in search of mates to make fawns with.
Each year, deer in the United States are involved in more than more than 1 million collisions that cause more than 200 human deaths. They also cost a lot of money, according to State Farm, the country’s top auto insurer, which says the average claim hovers around $4,000.
The company, in its annual effort to urge people not to smash into deer, recently used its claim data to come up with rankings for where such a collision is likely to happen. The most perilous state is West Virginia, whose drivers have a 1 in 41 chance of hitting a deer. Californians can breathe easier – their chances are 1 in 1,064.
According to State Farm, the top five states a driver was most likely to have a claim from a collision with a deer, elk or moose in the 2015-2016 study are:
- West Virginia (1 in 41 odds)
- Montana (1 in 58)
- Pennsylvania (1 in 67)
- Iowa (1 in 68)
- South Dakota (1 in 70).
[Full list from State Farm]
So what should you do to stay on the safe side of those probabilities? Definitely the basics:
- Slow down, particularly at dusk and dawn
- If you see one deer, be prepared for more deer to cross the road
- Pay attention to deer crossing signs
- Always buckle up, every trip, every time
- Use your high beams to see farther, except when there is oncoming traffic
- Brake if you can, but avoid swerving, which could result in a more severe crash
- Remain focused on the road, scanning for hazards, including animals
- Avoid distractions, like devices or eating, which might cause you to miss seeing an animal
- Do not rely on products such as deer whistles, which are not proven effective
- If riding a motorcycle, always wear protective gear and keep focus on the road ahead
“Hit the damn deer,” a Wisconsin auto body shop owner who does lots of business in deer-damaged cars told Slate last year. “If you have time to stop, then stop. But don’t swerve and risk your neck over a deer – or worse yet, over a dog or a squirrel. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.”
You could also hope for the continued spread of cougars in the United States. Researchers have determined that if the big cats repopulated the eastern United States, they could kill and feast upon enough deer to prevent about five deer-vehicle collision fatalities in the region each year.