By John Blankenship
When four wheels meet four hooves, the cost is high.
Nearly 2 percent of West Virginia drivers collided with a deer in the past year, a level that is almost four times the national average, according to a study released by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Data collected by the insurance company show the chances of a West Virginia driver striking a deer are 1 in 42, the highest odds in the U.S. That is nearly 50 percent higher than the second-highest state, Iowa, where the odds are 1 in 77.
South Dakota (1 in 81) and Pennsylvania (1 in 86) ranked third and fourth.
A deer-vehicle collision occurs when one or more deer and a human-operated vehicle collide on a roadway. It can result in deer fatality, property damage and human injury and/or death.
State and federal governments, insurance companies and drivers spend an additional $3 billion in an effort to reduce and manage the increasing number of deer-vehicle collisions.
And while the rate of deer collisions nationwide is on the decline, drivers in West Virginia still need to keep an eye out for the road-crossing animals.
The three-month period from October through December, which take in the deer migration and mating seasons, have the highest number of deer-vehicle mishaps.
State Farm officials also reported that while the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists over the past five years has increased just 2 percent, the number of deer-vehicle collisions in this country during that time has grown by 10 times that amount.
Using its claims data, State Farm estimated that 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. during the two-year period ending on June 30. That’s 21.1 percent more than five years earlier.
To put it another way, during the time it takes you to read this article, a collision between a deer and a vehicle will likely have taken place.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause about 200 fatalities each year. The average damage caused is $3,103, not including medical bills and missed work.
Some places are clearly worse for drivers than others. State Farm took a look at the overall number of reported collisions in each state and weighed them by the total number of licensed drivers.
For the fourth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer.
Damage figures for the past three years in the Mountain State were estimated at $100 million, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A random survey of some 1,700 people conducted by Virginia Tech found that 9.2 percent of drivers in high-deer population areas have had an accident involving the wily animals.
Last year, the West Virginia DNR reported nearly 14,000 vehicle-deer accidents on state highways.
If you are driving through a high-risk state, however, there are still things you can do to minimize your risk. State Farm provides the following tips to reduce your chances of hitting a deer:
— Be aware of posted deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer crossing areas.
— Remember that deer are most active between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
— Use high-beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.
— Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds — if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.
— If a deer collision seems inevitable, trying to swerve out of the way could make you lose control of your vehicle or move into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Drivers who hit a deer should pull over as soon as it is safely possible and call the police to make an accident report. It is important to give the police specific location of where the deer ended up so officers can find it more easily.
Many times, the deer survives the collision, but is seriously injured and needs to be put down. A police or conservation officer, in most instances, should be called to shoot the animal and end its suffering.
Motorists may claim the deer to butcher for meat, but they must first obtain a permit from the local conservation officer.
If a deer carcass is not claimed, it must be disposed of by the Department of Highways, authorities said.
Top o’ the morning!
— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org