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Reducing the high cost of wildlife vehicle collisions

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Did you know that you’re more likely to hit a deer than be audited by the IRS? One in 116 U.S. drivers will file an insurance claim after striking an animal such as a deer, and in some states, the risk is much higher. In West Virginia, for example, the odds are one in 38. Montana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Iowa also have particularly high occurrences of deer collisions.

The best way to avoid paying for damage from hitting a deer is to take steps to prevent the collision in the first place. But if you do end up in an unavoidable situation, you’ll need to file an insurance claim to ensure that the necessary repairs are made.

Is hitting a deer covered by collision or comprehensive insurance?

The vast majority of auto collision policies do not cover accidents that involve hitting animals, despite the fact that they are technically collisions. To be covered from damage resulting from animal collisions (including deer), you’ll need to purchase comprehensive coverage.

For people living in areas with a large deer population, especially suburban areas where hunting is limited or non-existent and deer tend to be less cautious, the addition of comprehensive coverage is recommended. Be sure to read your policy’s exclusions to make sure animal collisions are not excluded from coverage. When in doubt, ask your insurance agent.

Will my insurance rates go up if I hit a deer?

Any type of auto insurance claim can cause your rates to go up the next time you renew your policy, but it’s hard to say exactly how much. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the increase will be determined by the insurance company, your previous driving history and the severity and type of the claim. The more frequently you file claims, the more of an impact each subsequent claim will have on your rate, whether the claim is related to an animal collision.

Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that animal collision claim severity is on the rise, likely due to the increasing cost of car parts as technology advances. In 2018, the average insurance claim after striking an animal was $3,875 — a 60% increase since 2006. The cost of damage usually peaks in November when large animals such as deer are more likely to be out on roadways. Filing a more expensive claim could mean your rates see more of an impact.

Do you have to pay a deductible if you hit a deer?

Anytime you hit an animal and file a claim, you’ll have to pay the deductible on your comprehensive policy. For example, if a collision with a deer results in a $3,000 repair bill and you have a $500 deductible, the insurance company will typically cut you a check for $2,500. The remaining $500 will be on you.

The lower your deductible, the higher your monthly premiums will be, most notably with comprehensive coverage. However, you shouldn’t go with a sky-high deductible just to save money on car insurance. Never choose a deductible higher than what you can pay out of pocket comfortably. 

What to do if you hit a deer

Document what happened

Unlike collisions with other vehicles, rarely are police reports, other drivers or witnesses present to verify an accident with an animal. This places the burden exclusively on the driver to document everything. Begin with noting the exact time and location of the collision, and provide a description or take photographs of the animal involved (as verification of type and size). You should also take extensive photos of the scene and resulting damage. If you have dashcam footage, make sure you have it saved.

Call a tow truck

If the collision leaves your vehicle inoperable, contact a licensed garage to tow your vehicle to a body shop or your home. Be sure to keep all receipts for towing and service to provide during the claim process.

Have your vehicle repaired

Reach out to your insurance company’s customer service department and begin the claims process. Once you’ve worked out the details with your insurance company, you can take the next steps to have any necessary repairs made to your vehicle.

Take care of yourself

A collision of any sort can subject your body and the bodies of passengers to tremendous physical and mental stress. For instance, whiplash — a common danger in such an accident — may not become evident until a day or two after the collision. Be sure to look for signals from your body that something doesn’t feel right, including unusual aches, pains and headaches. If anything develops, be sure to seek medical attention immediately. 

Take the time you need to recover emotionally and consider seeking professional care if the feelings linger for an extended period of time, or if you find yourself struggling to get behind the wheel because of anxiety or fear.

How do I file a claim after hitting a deer?

Once you’ve moved yourself and your car out of harm’s way, and any immediate injuries have been assessed, it’s best to call your insurance company as soon as possible to begin the claims process. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Contact your insurance company’s claims department: A representative may direct you to fill out a claims form or take your information over the phone.
  • Provide documentation: This is where photographic evidence is vital because it is often the only proof you will have that damage occurred.
  • Verify mechanic: If your car is not already at a repair shop, inquire as to whether you are obligated to use an approved repair facility, and if so, the locations of said shops in your area.
  • Ask about a rental car: While temporary rental costs may be covered under insurance when a collision involves another vehicle, this isn’t always the case when you hit an animal. Be sure to ask before you incur expenses that may not be covered.
  • Have the necessary repairs made: You will be expected to pay your deductible directly to the repair shop, as well as any costs in excess of your coverage limits.

How to prevent hitting a deer on the road

Hitting a deer is expensive and potentially dangerous. While animal collisions are sometimes unavoidable, there are measures you can take to lower your chances of striking a deer, particularly during peak seasons.

  • Know when to be on the lookout: The chances of a collision with a deer are greatest when deer are most active: at dawn, shortly before dusk, and hours after sunset. Deer tend to find a safe place to bed down during the day as protection from overheating and predators.
  • Take your time getting to your destination: Decreased speeds do not add an unreasonable amount of time to the average commute – but they do provide significantly more protection against collisions.
  • Obey animal crossings: Animal crossing signs are effective because deer are creatures of habit and will frequent the same locations for generations. Drivers should heed these alerts because they indicate a frequent crossing point.
  • Exercise defensive driving habits: Actively scan approaching shoulders and reduce your speed to improve your chances of avoiding a collision.
  • Make your presence known: If you see a deer in your path, quickly flash your lights and/or sound your car horn. The phrase “deer in the headlights” is true; breaking the deer’s concentration will increase the likelihood that it will get out your path.
  • Hold the course: Contrary to instinct, you should never swerve to avoid deer standing in the road. When the animal decides to make a break in one direction or another, there is a 50/50 chance you will swerve there and your effort to avoid the collision will end up being responsible for a collision.

The takeaway:

  • Hitting a deer is an expensive accident that could result in your car insurance rates going up.
  • Deer collisions are most likely at dawn and dusk during the late fall months, particularly November.
  • If you see a deer, avoid swerving and instead flash your lights or honk your horn to get the animal’s attention and encourage them to move out of your path.

When it comes to accidents on the road, deer or other animal collisions occur more frequently than you might expect. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of your coverage type and whether or not you would be protected from an animal collision.

Comprehensive coverage is likely to provide this type of protection, but be sure to verify with your provider what is included and excluded in your policy. Awareness and proper response are the best ways to avoid an incident. In the event of a claim, document everything for the best claim outcome.

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