Seasonal road hazards: deer, moose and other ruminants

It’s that time of year again: peak deer-car collision season. More than half of all vehicle-deer crashes annually occur in October through December, with November being the peak month. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more than 150 fatalities each year are caused by vehicle-deer collisions. Deer are fast, unpredictable and can appear out of the blue.

But deer aren’t the only four-legged danger – moose and elk are serious road hazards, too. Larger, taller and with more body mass than deer, a bull moose can reach up to 1500 pounds. And because they are tall with long legs, they often come right in through the windshield when hit, a serious danger to car occupants. See this mammmal size comparison illustration to get an idea of how big moose, elk, deer, and other wildlife can be.

IIHS has issued a chart of fatalities from crashes with animals, tracking from 1975. They note that many of these deaths were preventable:

“Most of the crash deaths occurred after a motor vehicle had struck an animal and then run off the road or a motorcyclist had fallen off a bike. Many of these deaths wouldn’t have occurred with appropriate protection. The study found that 60 percent of the people killed riding in vehicles weren’t using safety belts, and 65 percent of those killed riding on motorcycles weren’t wearing helmets.”

Here are some resources to help you assess your state’s relative risk when it comes to large animals in the deer family:
Moose populations in selected states
Elk population by state
Driving tips to avoid colliding with deer and moose

  • Wear your seat belt
  • Be particularly cautions at dawn, dusk. Most collisions occur between 5 and 10 pm.
  • If you see one deer, there may be others – deer travel in herds
  • Heed posted signs warning about wildlife – they are there for a reason
  • Avoid speeding. Slow down around curves
  • Scan the sides of the road – watch for movement.
  • Be particularly alert on roads with woods, farmland, and water
  • Be cautious and slow down at night. You may see deer eyes reflected in your lights, but moose eyes don’t reflect light.
  • Watch other traffic – if you see cars stopped or slowing, it may indicate an animal
  • Flash headlights to warn other drivers
  • Don’t try to outrace or beat a crossing animal
  • Use high beams when you can
  • If you see an animal, honk your horn. Your lights may freeze or confuse an animal.
  • Motorcycles are particularly vulnerable – a cyclist may even be charged by a large animal

What to do if you hit a deer or a moose
Stop your car, put on hazard lights. You want to be visible so that no other car will hit you, your car, or the animal. Avoid approaching an injured animal, which can be very dangerous. In some states, if there are no injuries and your car is drivable, you would not be required to report the collision to the police. If you are unsure of the state law, call police. They will alert game wardens or the appropriate authorities to handle the animal. Some states will let you keep an animal for the meat, but you may need a permit. Report the accident to your insurance agent as soon as possible.
Drivers should be aware that not all auto insurance will cover deer or moose collisions. Comprehensive insurance is required to pay for damage incurred from an animal collision. Some people only have collision coverage and don’t carry comprehensive.