Five Things Every Driver Should Know About Animals in the Roads

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Release date: 1/15/2020

Fleet Versus Nature: Five Things Every Driver Should Know About Animals in the Roads
By Donald Dunphy
The moment I realized there was an animal in front of me, my car was already on top of it.
Say what you want about the modern class of small cars, but mine hobbled down 19 miles of dark road to the car dealership. The shop inspector was impressed that the axle and radiator hadn’t blown with “…so many bits of Bambi jammed up in it.”
It’s easy to find the dark humor in this via hindsight, but my financial cost was extreme, and I’m not counting the potential physical harm I could have faced. Now measure one man’s unfortunate run-in with the great outdoors against the potential risks a fleet may face. Are your drivers prepared for the unexpected?
What Are the Chances?
According to State Farm Insurance, the odds of a driver hitting a deer or other animals are 1 in 116. The company estimates that U.S. motorists made more than 1.9 million animal collision claims from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. 
In 2018, the New York City Police Department recorded 103 deer-vehicle collisions around Staten Island -- a five percent increase from the previous 98 collisions just a year before -- and a 232 percent increase from 31 collisions in 2015.
While the chance of hitting a deer, or other large animals, doubles in the fall, there is the potential for wildlife strikes all year long. It is important to be extra careful in November through December, the months with the most insurance claims. This is also typically the deer-mating season. 
Deer are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active before the sun goes down in the evenings, and after the sun crests the horizon in the morning. However, even though there’s an increased risk of crashing into a deer around dawn and dusk, they are creatures of urges. If they are hungry in the middle of the day, they will seek food, and if that food is on the other side of the road which you happen to be driving down…  
“But,” you might argue, “deer are not in my area.” Are you willing to bet on that? Hours before Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the U.S. northeast in 2012, a deer was caught in the wild surf of Monmouth Beach, N.J. A curiosity seeker on the beach attempted to chase the deer out of the ocean and back to the shoreline. On December 2, 2016, the New York Post reported on a buck roaming around Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem, N.Y., in search of a mate. Strange sightings only grow more common as one moves west toward the U.S. heartland. In other words, deer are in your area. You’ve simply been fortunate enough to literally not come in contact with them.
Navigating the Natural World
No one actively seeks to run over an animal, and particularly an animal that could do serious harm to you in kind. What are the five things every driver – fleet or otherwise - should be mindful of to stay safe?

  • Focus First - Keep your eyes on the road and avoid any distractions that will avert your view. Wildlife - especially skittish and unpredictable deer - seldom telegraph how they will behave. Devices or eating might cause you to miss seeing an animal. 
  • Pay Attention to Warning Signs – Literal warnings such as deer crossing signs should not be dismissed as an occasional hazard. Slow down, particularly at dusk and dawn. Deer move in groups, so if you see one, expect more nearby.
  • Use Your Gear – Every vehicle has standard safety equipment, but these can only help if you use them. No one should need to remind you to always buckle up. Use your high beams to see farther, except when there is oncoming traffic. Make sure your airbag pathways are unimpeded. An airbag that deploys improperly or turns barriers into projectiles is as dangerous as having no airbag at all.
  • Take the Hit - Brake if you can but avoid swerving. It could mean following through with the crash, but the outcome would be less tragic than turning into oncoming vehicles or driving into a tree. 
  • Never Mind the Gimmicks – Ask yourself this: if a miracle cure existed, wouldn’t everyone be using it already? Don’t rely on products like deer whistles, specialty lights, or other unproven non-standard solutions. 
You’re Going to Pay for That
“Normally when you are driving and hit something in the road, then the damage would be covered under collision,” said Neil Richardson, an insurance agent and contributor to the car insurance comparison website The Zebra*, in an article published in 2016. “However, hitting a deer (or any other animal) is considered a comprehensive claim since it is an unexpected variable and falls under the category of an ‘act of God,’ much like hail damage or vandalism.
“If the damage exceeds the amount of your deductible, then your insurance carrier will cover the remaining amount, assuming that you have comprehensive coverage on your policy,” Richardson said.
Most states require drivers to carry liability coverage, but comprehensive coverage is not required by any state laws. Drivers who carry their state's minimum required coverages likely will not be covered for a deer accident.
Fleet insurance policies can include coverage for vehicle liability, automatic out-of-state coverage for long-range over-the-road vehicles, multiple coverage options for vehicle physical damage, and fleet car insurance for non-hauling vehicles. Add-ons to auto insurance, like collision and comprehensive insurance policies, will also be different with fleet insurance. A careful assessment of your fleet's requirements can help you make better choices.
Accepting the Risk
When I hit the deer back in 2014, I had a car that was considered one of the safest on the market, a clean driving record, and all the insurance coverage that was expected of me. These steps will not prevent a wildcard event from happening but will mitigate outcomes from it. Preparation is key in the way you and your fleet recover from such a crash.

Sidebar: Think Like A Surveyor
Fleet managers should consider the landscape into which they will send drivers. Routing typically factors in the shortest and most cost-efficient routes a vehicle can take. However, roadwork can startle wildlife in adjoining areas. Construction in previously wooded areas can displace animals altogether, driving them into new and foreign territory. This confusion will increase erratic behavior.

During these time periods, routes should factor in such changes to the regions and alternate routes should be discussed.

Also, if vehicles are typically on the move in dawn/dusk times, changing up those hours should also be reconsidered.
Driving with wild animals in the mix is the classic penny-wise/pound-foolish debate. Fleet managers who know their drivers’ regions are affected by such unknown parameters assume a bit of inefficiency in order to avoid far worse outcomes.