Auto collisions with deer pose a health risk

November 2, 2010

Scott Hensley

In Maryland, where I live, there's a 1 in 119 chance that I'll hit a deer with my car in the next year.

Overall, there's a 1 in 183 chance of an American driver doing the same thing, according to claims data crunched by insurer State Farm. As the deer population has zoomed in recent years, so has the number of crashes.

State Farm figures the collisions -- more than 1 million annually -- are up 21 percent in the last five years. And beware: now through the end of the year is peak crash season.

 

Nobody wants to hit a deer. It's probably curtains for the animal and may not be so good for you. More than 1,000 people died in collisions with animals during the five years that ended in 2009, according to federal data the folks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety passed along.

About 3 in 4 collisions between cars and animals involve deer. The Washington Post's Allan Sloan, who zeroed in on the economic cost of the deer overpopulation problem, put the annual human death toll from crashes into the animals at 140.

The likelihood of an accident with a deer varies a lot by state. West Virginia, for the fourth year in a row, leads the deer-crash pack with a driver's annual odds of a collision at 1 in 42, according to State Farm.

Out in the West, the risks subside. And in Hawaii, the chances for a crash are pretty darned slim at about 1 in 13,000. (Check out the map from State Farm for info on your state.)

Just because you hit something doesn't mean you have to get seriously hurt.

"In most cases the fatal crashes could have been prevented had the motorists taken the basic precaution of putting on a seat belt," IIHS spokesman Russ Rader tells Shots.

Also, he says, the research shows deaths aren't usually a direct result of hitting the animal. It's the secondary impact with another vehicle or going off the road that proves fatal.

Motorcyclists also hit deer, and Rader says not wearing a helmet is a big factor in which of those collisions lead to drivers' deaths.

Deer, while the biggest problem, aren't the only road hazard. There are also wild boar to worry about. Dr. Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife specialist with Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service, figures a vehicle plows into feral hogs at an annual rate of about 1 percent.

He says nobody knows exactly how many feral hogs are out there, but it's a big and growing number. "Feral hogs are the most prolific large mammal on the face of the Earth," he said in statement. "There's no question about that."

Check out the video for more info. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.