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I Hit a Deer, am I Covered?

The fall months always see an uptick in the number of auto accidents involving wildlife. Deer, elk and other animals will be making their way to their winter homes and collisions with cars are inevitable. Accidents involving wildlife cannot only be deadly, but very expensive.

Cars hit 1 million deer each year and the damage can be extensive. The State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry reports that the average weight of an adult deer runs between 155 and 203 pounds, this can lead to a serious accident.

According to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, every year insurers pay out over $1 billion in claims for vehicle accidents that involve wildlife. In 2011, the average amount of these claims was about $3,171, which is up roughly 2.2 percent from last year.

The good news is that there has been a drop in wildlife collisions in Colorado and Michigan, both big wildlife states. The decline has been attributed to a number of factors. Increased driver awareness, speed restrictions in high animal corridors combined with doubled fines for speeding is responsible for the decline according to experts.

While there is no guaranteed method to keep wildlife off the road, researchers have found that that on roads where at least 5 percent of the traffic is big trucks, fewer wildlife collisions occur. They claim that drivers of cars tend to be more alert when surrounded by large trucks. Roads with fewer lanes, where the median is narrower than six feet and the speed limit is above 50 tend to have less animal traffic as well.

If you find yourself on the road and confronted with an animal, experts offer the following tips:

Don’t Swerve – You will often end up driving off the road. This can lead to rolling your vehicle and your injuries will be more severe than if you just hit the animal.

Brake Firmly – Hit the brakes, hard.

Stay Straight – It’s important to stay in your lane and if necessary hit the animal straight on. Swerving into the opposing lane can end in a head-on collision with a car.

Animal Accidents and Car Insurance

When it comes to wildlife accidents, the comprehensive portion of your policy covers the damage. If you are carrying a bare bones policy that simply offers liability coverage you will be on your own when it comes to the repair bills.  State minimums do not require comprehensive so if you are carrying state insurance minimums you will not be covered.

Comprehensive coverage protects you from damages that are caused by incidents other than collisions. It offers protection from vandalism, theft, fire, flooding as well as damage caused by collisions with wildlife or other animals.

While comprehensive is an add-on to a standard policy, it only makes up about 10-15 percent of the total premium according to insurance experts, making the coverage it provides well worth the cost. As an added bonus most claims against the comprehensive portion of your policy will not result in a rise in your premium.

If you do end up swerving and miss the deer but manage to hit the tree by the side of the road, you will need to make a claim under the collision portion of your policy. Despite the fact that the deer started the chain of events that ended with your crash, unless you actually hit the animal, comprehensive will not offer protection.

When filing a claim that involves an animal strike, it is a good idea to get a police report, as many insurers will ask for one. While not always required, it is best to have one just in case.

Getting into an accident with wildlife can be both frightening and expensive but the right insurance coverage can make sure you and your car are protected.