CHICAGO — It's autumn, and if you're a deer, that means love is in the air.
Bucks are running after does around the countryside, and many are chasing the objects of their affection out of the woods and onto the roads. When a deer collides with a car, damage amounts to an average cost of $3,000, making this a potentially costly and scary time of year for motorists and insurance companies.
"Drivers really need to be aware of their surroundings and circumstances," said Jim Taylor, head of claims customer experience at Farmers Insurance. "If you see a sign that says 'Caution, deer crossing,' it's there for a reason."
Taylor had his own run-in with a big antlered buck two Novembers ago. It was early in the morning, near an urban area. The deer came out from the side of the road and collided with Taylor's car. "All I saw was a blur before the contact," Taylor said. The animal got up and ran off, but the car was almost a total loss.
"I was able to just barely drive it the couple of blocks to my office," Taylor said. "It was a very scary experience."
Of more than 1.9 million animal collision claims reported in the U.S. between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, more than 1.5 million involved deer, according to a report released last week by State Farm Insurance.
In the fall, "we see a bit of a spike in animal losses, and it's mostly from deer," said Jim Glenn, claim field director for the Midwest region for Allstate Insurance, which includes Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Glenn said the problem is mostly in rural areas, but deer are also seen in urban areas along highways, especially in Illinois, where deer have adapted to city and suburban environments.
In 2017, deer were involved in 4.8% of crashes on Illinois roads, or 1 in 20, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Deer are also a problem for drivers during the spring, when mother deer send yearlings off on their own, said Brian Kraskiewicz, an ecologist with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Illinois. But deer-car collisions are more common in the fall, during mating season, he said.
To avoid deer strikes, here are some tips from insurance experts:
Use extra caution and reduce your speed when driving into animal crossing zones, areas known to have large wildlife populations and places where roads divide agricultural fields from forest areas. Many encounters occur at dawn and dusk.
If you're traveling on a road with multiple lanes, try to stay in the center lane, which will provide more time to react to hazards.
Be vigilant while you're driving, which means not looking at your cellphone. Wear your seat belt, because collisions can happen no matter how careful you are.
Turn on high beams at night when there is no oncoming traffic. If you encounter a deer, switch the headlights to low so animals are not blinded and can move out of the way.
If you see one deer, assume that there are more, because they often travel together.
Try to slow down and stop if it is safe to do so, to allow the deer to clear the road, Glenn said. Stay in your lane and do not swerve, because this can cause you to hit another vehicle or lose control of the car.
Motorcyclists should wear protective gear, have powerful driving lights, constantly scan roadsides and slow down in areas with heavy animal populations. State Farm said that 65% of motorcyclists killed in animal-related crashes were not wearing a helmet.
If you do hit a deer, notify law enforcement. Farmers Insurance also recommends that you stay away from the animal, because it may only be stunned and can panic if you come too close.
Drivers also should make sure vehicles can be driven safely after a crash, insurers said.
"If you think of new cars, with all the automation and sensors, (a deer) can do quite a bit of damage," said Glenn of Allstate. "It can take out your headlights. You can have suspension damage, a leaking radiator or flat tires."