Unusual perils in your morning commute: will your insurance cover this?


How’s your morning commute? This commuter encountered an unusual peril, a unique example of road rage, with the Nissan Pathfinder coming out on the losing side.

This clip is dramatic evidence of the size of an American bison in relation to a car – pretty formidable. Below is a clip of an Alaskan moose ambling down the highway to give you a dramatic size perspective.

Wildlife and vehicular collisions are pretty common, and while they peak in October through December, they can occur at any time of the year. State Farm tracks wildlife-vehicle collisions, reporting in October 2018:

The 16th annual State Farm deer-vehicle collision study has some good news. Overall in the U.S., drivers were less likely — one in 167 — to have a crash involving a collision with deer, elk, moose, or caribou. Last year’s survey put that chance at one in 162. It is estimated deer, elk, moose, and caribou collisions dropped slightly to 1.33 million in the U.S. between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 — down from 1.34 million in 2017. And, this is despite the fact that there are nearly four million more licensed drivers.

Those odds are in about the same range as being audited by the IRS (1 in 175) so when you think of it that way, it’s worth thinking about how you’d react to this hazard in a driving situation.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tracks fatalities in animal-vehicle crashes, marking 211 in 2017. They include a breakdown by state.

If you see a deer in the road, should you swerve or not? Here’s some advice from safety expert Mike Winterle, who advises you not to swerve.

“The leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths from deer-related accidents is when vehicles swerve in an attempt to avoid hitting a deer. Swerving can result in vehicles moving into oncoming traffic, crashing into trees and other objects, or evening rolling over. While it may be against a driver’s first instinct, the safest thing to do is slow down as much as possible and let your vehicle strike the deer. Instincts tell us to avoid an obstruction in the road, but if you can train yourself to not swerve to avoid deer in the road you will keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers much safer.”

Here’s some other good advice:

AAA: Wildlife Crossing: Tips to Avoid Animal-Vehicle Collisions
Insurance Information Institute: Avoid a deer-car collision

Does insurance cover animal-vehicle collision damage?

Will the damage caused to the Nissan Pathfinder be covered by their auto insurance? That depends on whether they have comprehensive, which is an optional not a mandatory coverage. See The Insurance Information Institute: Cars and Deer – A Risky Combination; Consider Including Comprehensive Coverage on Your Auto Policy

Damage caused by an accident with deer or other animals is covered under the optional comprehensive portion (not the collision portion) of an automobile insurance policy. Comprehensive auto insurance includes coverage for: fire, theft, vandalism or malicious damage, riot, flood, earthquake or explosion, hail, windstorm, falling or flying objects, damage due to contact with a bird or animal, and sometimes, depending on the policy, windshield damage.

Do you need comprehensive insurance? That probably depends on a lot of factors such as the age of your car and how much you depend on your vehicle. Could you afford to repair or replace it if you have a collision with moose or damage from weather-related perils or human-generated vandalism? Your independent insurance agent can get you a quote and help you think through such scenarios to assess the cost-benefit in your particular situation.

High tech cars equal high cost repairs


schematic of headlight depicting costly technology in cars

It used to be that when you opened your car’s hood, you could look straight down and see the pavement beneath the engine. There was room to get your hands in there; to change a belt, tighten a hose clamp, pull a spark plug, or swap out an air filter. Try that with a new car and you’re in for a frustrating time: every gap under the hood is filled, every available space crammed with technology. Our cars are no longer simple mechanical chariots of iron and fire. They’re sleek, smart, and integrated into the wider world in ways that would sound like science fiction to the shade-tree mechanics of yesterday.

A new car runs on average 100 million lines of code. That’s more software than the Large Hadron Collider, the Mars Rover, and the Hubble Space Telescope – COMBINED. Everything from braking and the firing of pistons to the temperature of the seats and the mix of air in the passenger compartment is regulated and monitored by software.

Higher repair costs translate to higher insurance rates

All those sensors add up. As vehicles get more complex, the costs to repair them are rising. This, of course, increases insurance rates. Nationwide, the average cost of auto insurance went up from $915 in 2015 to $980 in 2016.  By 2017 the average cost of auto insurance was $1,060. This is expected to climb to $1,150 in 2018, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

An important contributing factor is where these expensive sensors are placed: they’re often on bumpers, front grilles, and side mirrors, the same spots that see the most incidental damage. Even an undamaged sensor can get knocked out of calibration in a seemingly minor fender-bender, affecting everything from adaptive cruise control which relies on front-facing radar to automatic headlight-dimming that uses tiny cameras to “see” oncoming traffic.

“The insurance industry is very focused on the repair costs associated with these new technologies,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “When the reduction in the crash risk associated with any advanced driver assistance system is greater than the increased repair costs then insurance premiums will likely go down,” Moore said. But in the short term, he expects the dollar value of collision claims to rise approximately 2% per year.

Of course, not factored into this accounting are all the injuries and deaths that these expensive safety features prevent. Maybe paying a little more for repairs now is worth it, when you consider that now drivers are walking away unscathed from accidents that in the past would’ve meant disability or death. It’s up to us as responsible drivers to use the tools we’re given to drive smart and drive safe – and when we do that, everybody wins.