When drivers and wildlife cross paths, the results often are fatal.
In addition to the lives at risk, hitting an animal can cause extensive damage to a vehicle. Repairs for this type of crash can be costly. “Replacing a headlight on a truck can be up to $300 or $400,” says Kyle Russell, an insurance agent at Chris Berger State Farm insurance agency in Indiana.
In 2011, nearly 200 people died as a result of animal collisions, often with deer, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Coverage for animal collisions is included in the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. If you have a loan or lease on your car, you’ll usually be required to have this type of coverage. In other cases, comprehensive coverage is generally optional.
What causes animal collisions?
One of the causes behind road risks for both animals and humans lies in the layout of the roads, says Jon Beckmann, associate conservation scientist in the North America Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
During most of the 20th century, road construction decisions focused on issues such as terrain, soil and cost. Animal habitats were often not taken into consideration. “As a result, many roadways pass through what were once the best habitats,” Beckmann says.
Slow-moving animals, such as turtles, are in grave danger when they try to cross a road to reach a mating or nesting site on the other side.
Carnivores that tend to cover a lot of territory, like wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions, have to cross many roads. This puts them at risk when facing approaching vehicles.
Certain animal groups, including endangered species, have seen their populations decrease as a result of getting hit on America’s roads. For instance, roadkill has played a role in reducing the population of the ocelot, an endangered cat. Today there are about 80 ocelots left, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In recent years, several projects have led to safer environments for both wildlife and motorists. One of these involves the pronghorn population. A pronghorn is an animal that has the body shape of a deer with long legs, a short tail and a long snout. In the early 19th century, pronghorn numbered an estimated 35 million. Today, about 700,000 remain, and the majority of them live in Wyoming.
To provide safe passage for pronghorn on the move, the Wyoming Department of Transportation constructed overpasses and underpasses along the migration routes used by the animals. Since its completion in 2012, the number of collisions involving pronghorn and vehicles has dropped significantly, Beckmann says.
How to avoid animal collisions
While road projects can improve safety for both vehicles and animals, motorists can also take precautions to prevent crashes.
Here are four ways to protect yourself and others on the road.
1. Be on the lookout.
“While driving, search ahead to capture as much as possible,” says Steve Dziadik, owner of Driving School of Florida in Sarasota, Fla. Animals such as deer rarely move alone. If you see one, there are likely to be others nearby.
Some animals are more active at dusk and dawn. If you’re driving during these time periods, watch the sides of the road for approaching animals.
2. Understand your location.
Consider the types of animals that may dwell in the environment you’re traveling through, advises the Utah Safety Council. Road signs might offer warnings of moose, buffalo, or elk crossings. Other signs may issue alerts of bears in the region.
Also, if you see dead animals on the side of the road, it may be an indicator that there are others moving in the area.
3. Wear a seat belt.
Buckling up or putting on a helmet could prevent most human deaths in animal collisions, says Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In a study on deadly vehicle and animal collisions, the IIHS found that 60 percent of the people killed in vehicles weren’t using safety belts. In addition, 65 percent of those killed while riding motorcycles weren’t wearing helmets.
4. Check your auto insurance coverage.
If you have comprehensive coverage on your auto policy, consider the deductible, Russell says. If you currently have a deductible of $500 and hit a deer, you’ll need to pay $500 for repairs on the vehicle out of your own pocket. If your deductible is $0, however, you won’t have to pay for the repairs needed as a result of the collision.
In some cases, you might only need to pay a few dollars more a month to reduce the deductible from several hundred dollars to $0 on your policy. Doing so could offer some peace of mind. “If you hit a deer, your first thought won’t be that it’s going to cost $500,” Russell says.