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Car Insurance and Deer Accidents

We’ve all said it at one time or another: “Accidents happen.”

Accidents involving deer, elk, or moose happen surprisingly often. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) estimates approximately 1.5 million deer-related automobile accidents occur every year.

To put it in perspective, the number of accidents involving deer is greater than the populations of Delaware and Wyoming combined. This is equivalent to a collision occurring three times every minute.

The financial impact is staggering. Vehicle damage alone accounts for over $1 billion in annual costs. Factor in tens of thousands of injuries, lost time at work, and 150 occupant deaths each year and the total price tag skyrockets.

For insurers, the average cost of a deer-related claim is just shy of $4,000. This includes vehicle repair costs, towing, and rental coverage. But these claims are only paid to drivers who have the proper insurance policy in place. If your policy is missing critical coverages, you may be left holding the bill.

What is automobile insurance?

Automobile insurance is required if you want to operate a motor vehicle anywhere in the United States. While auto insurance is required, to what extent your policy will cover you in the event of an accident greatly depends on the coverages you select.

At the most basic level, automobile insurance is a contract between you, the insured, and an insurance company. In exchange for your premium payment, the insurance company agrees to pay specific losses you may incur.

A good automobile policy can be broken down into six primary parts:

  • Bodily Injury – If you are the at-fault party in an accident where someone else is injured or killed, bodily injury coverage will cover you. Each state requires a minimum amount of bodily injury coverage on your policy.
  • Property Damage – If you are the at-fault party in an accident where someone else’s property is damaged, this coverage will apply. Most often the other property is someone else’s vehicle. But, this coverage will also pay for damage you cause to buildings, light poles, mailboxes or any other physical property.
  • Collision – If, while operating your vehicle, you run into an object such a wall, light pole, or another vehicle, collision coverage will pay for repair or replacement of your vehicle.
  • Comprehensive – This coverage covers you in if your vehicle is stolen or damaged as a result of an incident other than collision. Covered perils include damage from fire, hail, earthquake, explosions, and even falling objects. It is important to note that this is the coverage you’ll need for a deer-related accident.
  • Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist – If you’re hit by another driver, whether as a driver yourself, as a bicyclist, or a pedestrian, and the other driver doesn’t have enough or any insurance, this coverage will protect you.
  • Medical Payments – Regardless of fault (no-fault), medical payments coverage is the primary source of coverage if you are injured in an accident.

The cost to repair damage to your vehicle resulting from a deer-related accident is only covered under the comprehensive coverage section of an automobile insurance policy. To save money, many insured individuals waive comprehensive coverage and mistakenly assume deer accidents are covered under property damage liability or collision coverage.

As with any coverage, the specific coverage provided to you will be impacted by which coverages you select and the deductible options you choose.

States with the most deer accidents

Nationally, we know how prevalent deer-related accidents ( an accident occurs every 20 seconds). For some states, the odds of getting into these accidents are so high, you are more likely to be in a deer-related accident than getting dealt three-of-kind during your weekly poker game.

The five states where deer collisions are most likely to occur include:

  • West Virginia – 1 in 43
  • Montana – 1 in 57
  • Pennsylvania – 1 in 63
  • Iowa – 1 in 69
  • Wisconsin – 1 in 72

Like the national statistics, the figures above are annualized. When driving during the fall months between October and December, the odds more than double. This is the time of year for mating and also when deer are foraging for food in preparation for the cold, long days of winter. Both contribute to a more active and mobile deer population.

Regionally, it is the Midwest which sees the most deer collisions year after year. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin are consistently in the top ten states for  deer accidents.

States with the fewest deer accidents

Even if you don’t live in a Midwest state where the majority of the deer population resides, you’ll find deer in every state. For the fewest number of deer collisions each year, these states only reduce the likelihood of an accident, not eliminate the risk:

  • Hawaii – 1 in 6,823
  • California – 1 in 1,117
  • Arizona – 1 in 973
  • Nevada – 1 in 966
  • Florida – 1 in 847

Although Hawaii’s big island has a very small deer population, the surrounding islands have over ten thousand deer wandering around in the wild. As their population grows, the number collisions increased as it did in 2016 by over 175%.

In the western states of California, Arizona, and Nevada, most deer collisions occur near the cooler, mountainous regions of each state. Keeping to the high desert or urban areas nearly eliminates the chance of a deer strike.

Florida is unique. Not only does the Sunshine State boast a healthy population of white-tailed deer in central and northeast Florida,  there’s a sub-species found only in the Florida Keys. Key deer, found only on Deer Key, located 45 minutes north of Key West, find themselves involved in dozens of automobile collisions each year.

Benefits of full coverage auto insurance

Full coverage automobile insurance includes at least a minimum limit of insurance for each of the coverages outlined above, including comprehensive coverage.

In an effort to reduce your day-to-day costs of living, it may be easy to waive comprehensive coverage and go for the cheapest car insurance. After all, comprehensive coverage can be a substantial portion of your annual premium. Let’s consider the potential cost of foregoing comprehensive insurance: Joe is 40 years old, has a good driving record, and drives a two-year-old SUV. His annual premium, excluding comprehensive coverage, is $721.

On his way home from work, Joe collides with a deer. His repairs amount to $4,000 (the national average). Without comprehensive coverage, every dollar to repair his vehicle will come out of his own pocket. This could amount to months of hard-earned pay.

Luckily, Joe’s insurance agent recommended obtaining comprehensive coverage for an additional $225 a year. Joe’s deer encounter actually was much less costly, as he was only responsible for his $500 deductible.

Even though he is paying $225 a year for comprehensive coverage and absorbing the $500 deductible, it would take Joe over 15 years to break even if he were to self-insure. That is, if he were to save the $225 each and every year, Joe would be in his mid-fifties before the benefit of the savings entered his favor.

Final thoughts

Comprehensive insurance coverage is regularly misunderstood, especially when it comes to deer-related accidents. Before considering waiving comprehensive or other automobile insurance coverage options, review the potential impact of not being properly insured. Most likely, the small incremental premiums you pay today can end up protecting you.