Report puts cost of car-deer crashes at $400 million in Pennsylvania


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You've got the foliage, which is very pleasant, but this time of year also brings carnage, as deer begin their annual mating-season gallop into traffic.

Mid-October through mid-December is the peak season for deer vs. vehicle collisions, and Pennsylvania is one of the nation's most active battlefields. State Farm insurance projects that about 115,000 collisions occurred in Pennsylvania in the year that ended June 30, 2013, and the average damage claim for that period was just over $3,400.

That works out to nearly $400 million in damage wreaked in the state by wayward deer, and that doesn't count the value of the gardens they devour before roaming onto the roads.

Pennsylvania is the undisputed leader in the number of deer-vehicle crashes, with Michigan a distant second at 77,000, according to State Farm. But West Virginia remained the state where a typical motorist stood the greatest chance of taking a deer in the headlights -- a 1 in 41 chance. Pennsylvania was fifth, with a 1 in 77 chance.

State Farm, which faithfully tabulates deer-vehicle encounters each year, said the odds of a driver hitting one have declined by 4.3 percent nationwide. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation figures say motorists here shouldn't relax.

Reportable deer-related crashes (including ones where the driver missed the deer but hit something else) have steadily increased statewide, going from 4,109 in 2008 to 4,855 last year. Fourteen people died and 1,352 were injured in 2012.

A reportable crash is one in which someone is injured or one or more vehicles cannot be driven from the scene.

Allegheny County recorded 308 reportable crashes, up sharply from the 263 that occurred in 2011. Seventy-two people were hurt, one fatally.

The problem might be worse were it not for a volunteer organization, Whitetail Management Associates of Greater Pittsburgh, which provides experienced archers at no cost to municipalities that want to thin their deer herds.

The group's president, Joe McCluskey Jr., said members are hunting in nine Allegheny County parks and a handful of other communities. "We want to try to make [the population] a healthy number. We don't want to overharvest," he said.

In addition to reducing the potential damage to vehicles and property, the group has donated more than 25 tons of processed venison to charity since its creation in 1996. Hunters donate the meat from their first deer and every third one after that to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

According to Cornell University Cooperative Extension, deer cause at least $2 billion in damage to vehicles, crops, timber and gardens annually in the U.S., with half of that inflicted on vehicles.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission says mating season for deer extends from mid-October to mid-December, peaking in mid-November. It is during this time that deer tend to dash about with little regard for their safety.

Experts offer a range of advice to drivers: Slow down, use high-beams when there is no nearby traffic, be extra cautious around dawn and dusk, and if you spot a deer, assume others are nearby. Never swerve to avoid a deer; you could lose control and risk colliding with oncoming traffic.

"A little precaution goes a long way," said John Mackey, police chief in Bethel Park, where the deer population has become a source of concern to some residents.

"We do have an awful lot of deer," he said. "It's not like we're in crisis mode." He estimated that "10 or so" deer-vehicle collisions occur in a typical year.

Damage from striking a deer is covered by the optional comprehensive portion of auto insurance, which typically means the driver pays a lower deductible than for a crash. If the deer is missed but the motorist hits something else, collision coverage applies -- another reason experts say not to swerve.

If a struck deer dies, the driver or a passing motorist can claim the carcass, provided they are Pennsylvania residents. They must report it to the Game Commission within 24 hours.

That venison might be their most expensive meal of the year.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM


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