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If you’ve ever had the misfortune of hitting an animal in the road while driving, you know that it’s a frightening and sad experience. While it’s almost always fatal for the animal, it can also cause human injury, loss of life and serious auto damage.

In certain parts of the country, collisions between vehicles and animals account for a surprisingly large percentage of the total accidents. This is especially true in areas that have large deer populations. According to the Federal Highway Administration http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/, collisions between autos and animals are steadily rising.  Auto-deer collisions in particular increase during mating season in the months of October through December.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration http://www.nhtsa.gov/ estimates that there are about a million auto crashes involving deer annually that result in the death of 200 Americans.  Human injuries from these types of crashes number roughly 10,000 per year and result in $1 billion in damages to vehicles.

A 2010 article in the New York Times reported that deer-related collisions in the previous two years totaled 2.3 million, a figure that’s a 21% rise compared with the previous five years. Auto insurers estimate that the figure is higher, because many of these collisions are never reported to a police or insurers. The average auto-deer crash results in roughly $3,000 in damage, according to insurers.

As deer populations continue to rise and more deer inhabit suburban areas, so will collisions.  The reverse is also true: as human habitation spreads further into rural areas, cars will come in more contact with deer.  The white-tailed deer is the most prolific in the U.S. and the primary type involved in most collisions.

According to State Farm, the state with the greatest risk of deer collision is West Virginia, where the chances of hitting a deer are 1 in 42 during a twelve month period.  The second highest rate of deer collision occurs in Iowa, where drivers have 1 in 67 odds.  Michigan ranks third, at 1 in 70.  Statistics show that most of these crashes occur between dusk and dawn.

While most deer-related accidents don’t cause human injury, these types of crashes cause a serious risk. According to a report in USA Today http://usatoday.com/, an Indiana accident in which a family was rear ended by a semi-truck when they slowed or stopped after a deer collision, killed three adults and four children.  Another crash in Minnesota sent a deer catapulting through the windshield, seriously injuring three passengers.

In Florida, Texas and California, crashes with animals take on a different form. Collisions with feral hogs are skyrocketing as the animals continue to spread into populated areas.  The animals can top out at 300 pounds, and are capable of causing serious damage.

A study completed by the University of Alberta features some good news when it comes to auto-deer crashes. When warning signs are set up in areas where deer are likely to cross roadways, collisions are reduced by 34%.  The lesson here: to avoid a crash, slow down when you’re driving in deer-populated areas, especially from dusk to dawn, whether or not there are warning signs posted.