Watch out Pa. and N.J. drivers : Deer darting into traffic can be trouble, even deadly

It’s that time of the year when bucks are feeling amorous.

With the Thanksgiving spike in traffic, this frisky time for deer can turn deadly for the animals — and drivers.

The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is advising drivers to remain alert during the rutting season, as bucks in pursuit of does may end up with one caught in the headlights, killing the deer and causing significant damage to a vehicle and serious injury — or even death — to its occupants.

Pay attention, Keystone State drivers: State Farm lists Pennsylvania as the third-highest state for drivers colliding with deer. One in 63 Pennsylvania drivers has a chance of hitting a deer. In New Jersey, it is one out of 229. State Farm provides a state-by-state breakdown of such accidents, with only West Virginia and Montana ranking higher than Pennsylvania. Hawaii, California, and Nevada drivers are the most likely to avoid deer collisions.

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A herd of whitetail deer in October 2017 in Landisburg, Perry County, PA. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

According to a State Farm study, there were an estimated 1.35 million collisions in the United States between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, costing drivers an average of $4,179 in damage.

Using its claims data and state-licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration, State Farm, a leading auto insurer, calculated the data for the insurance industry as a whole, based on State Farm claims involving policyholders with comprehensive and collision coverage only.

Staff Graphic

In 2015-16, State Farm reported 1.3 million industry-wide deer collision claims in the U.S. That included 24,617 in New Jersey and 133,817 in Pennsylvania.

Mating season started around October and continues through December, the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance said in a news release issued Tuesday. The chance of deer sprinting onto roadways rises in the early morning and around sunset, when visibility decreases and deer tend to be on the move.

“You don’t have to be a hunter to come into the cross hairs of deer during the fall months,” said New Jersey’s banking and insurance commissioner, Richard J. Badolato. “You could find that your vehicle moves into the same path as a doe or buck. More deer accidents occur in October and November than the rest of the year.”

Also watch for herds. Multiple deer may cross the road at any moment, usually in single file.

“If you see a deer, slow down and pay attention to sudden movement,” said Badolato. “If the deer is in the road and does not move, wait for the deer to pass and the road is clear. Also, pay attention to ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. Slow down when driving through areas known to have a lot of deer.”

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A deer runs across a road in New Hampshire. 

Here are some driving tips from Badolato:

• If you are about to hit a deer or other animal, hold firmly onto the steering wheel, apply your brakes, and come to a stop. Try not to swerve, which could cause you to lose control and possibly hit a tree or veer into oncoming traffic.

• If you hit a deer, stay calm and move your vehicle to a safe place, pulling onto the shoulder. If you can’t move your car or the animal is blocking traffic, alert authorities so they can clear the roadway.

• Once safe, take photos of vehicle damage and the roadway. Document all injuries, and report the incident to your insurance carrier.

Officials suggest that drivers check their insurance policies to make sure they have adequate coverage. Not all insurance policies cover vehicle damage caused by hitting an animal. You may need additional comprehensive coverage, which is optional, to pay for animal damage.

“To make sure your vehicle is covered for deer collisions, contact your agent or carrier to discuss adding comprehensive coverage to your policy,” said Badolato. “Filing a claim for an accident covered by your comprehensive coverage means you will still have to pay a deductible. After that, your insurer will cover the costs of the claim up to your policy limits.”