According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about one million deer-car accidents each year. But how likely is it to happen to you? It depends on where you live, as well as the time of year.
A statistic released by State Farm Insurance in 2019 revealed that the odds of hitting deer or other animals on the road are about 1 in 116. While this number has significantly dropped over the last few years, it still indicates that it’s a risk motorists face while on the road.
Some states also have a higher risk rate of deer vs. car collisions. West Virginia has the highest risk rate (1 in 38), followed by Montana (1 in 48), and Pennsylvania (1 in 52).
The risk of getting into a collision with deer and other wildlife increases as deer season goes into full swing. Deer season typically coincides with fall and runs from October to December. During this time, it gets dark much earlier, especially after Daylight Savings Time ends, and this can contribute to a rise in deer accidents.
It’s important to be vigilant on the road during deer season. As a motorist, you need to make sure that your vehicle is in top shape and is equipped with fully functional parts (make sure to replace any broken or dim lights) to help reduce the likelihood of accidents and potential collisions with deer and other wildlife.
What should you do to avoid getting into a deer-car accident and what kind of vehicle damage can you expect should you get into one? Read on to find out.
Can Hitting a Deer Total Your Car?
The short answer is yes, your car can get totaled in a deer vs. car collision. Getting into a road accident with deer or other animals of similar (or larger) size can cause more damage than you would expect.
Of course, factors such as speed and point of impact can play a significant role. The size of your vehicle and its durability can also affect the outcome. For example, hitting an average-sized doe can completely wreck your vehicle if you’re driving a compact vehicle or a sedan. On the other hand, while they fare better in deer-related accidents, larger SUVs and trucks aren’t exempt from incurring damage, such as broken headlights, crumpled bumpers, and even cracked windshields.
Deer collisions may also result in animal and human injuries and fatalities. If you do get into an incident involving wildlife, do not approach the animal before the first responders arrive. Wounded deer may use their strong legs or sharp hooves to injure people, especially if they’re confused or in a state of panic.
Driving more carefully than usual is advised, but it may not always work out as planned. Accidents may still occur when the driver attempts to swerve or quickly hit the brakes to avoid colliding with animals. Such evasive maneuvers may lead to collisions with other vehicles, trees, etc.
Deer Car Accidents: What Kind of Damage Can You Expect?
Unfortunately, even when you take all the proper precautions, sometimes road accidents involving wildlife are simply unavoidable. Animals, especially deer, can move very quickly and can dart in front of your car before you get a chance to react.
In the event that you do get into a wildlife-related accident, you can expect quite a bit of damage. Hitting deer or other similar-sized animals at 50 to 60 miles per hour will surely damage the front end of a vehicle. Typically, there will be multiple punctures to the radiator and a possible engine coolant leak. Aside from these, you can also expect a variety of damaged components.
Listed below are some of the most common parts affected by a deer vs. car collision:
Shattered Headlights, Fog Lights, and Auxiliary lights
A vehicle’s headlights illuminate the road ahead at night. Meanwhile, a fog light is used to provide the driver with a clear view of the road in low-visibility driving conditions. Because these lights are located at the front of the vehicle, they’re highly susceptible to damage, especially after a significant front-end collision.
Depending on the extent of the damage and the type of headlights and/or fog lights you have installed, you may also need to replace the housing and covers, in addition to replacing the bulbs.
Meanwhile, light-emitting diode (LED) light bars are used to provide auxiliary lighting in low-visibility driving conditions. Many truck owners install LED light bars up on the roof, so in that setup, they’re not likely to get damaged in a collision. Sometimes, however, they’re installed on the bumper, in which case they are likely to get damaged in a deer vs. car accident.
Do keep in mind that some states have laws regulating the use of auxiliary lighting in vehicles. You can check your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for more information.
Cracked or Broken Bumpers and Front-End Accessories
Contrary to popular belief, a vehicle’s bumper is not the plastic or fiberglass material found on the lower front or rear end of the vehicle. In fact, the plastic material is called the bumper cover. The “real” bumper is the metal bar found behind the bumper cover. Its job is to provide structural support to the vehicle and to absorb impact from minor collisions.
Both the bumper cover and the bumper itself will likely sustain damage in a deer collision, but it depends on the severity of the incident.
Bumper covers are typically installed using clips or other fasteners, so installation is pretty straightforward. However, if you need to replace your vehicle’s bumper, you will need the help of a licensed mechanic.
If you own a truck that is equipped with front-end accessories such as bull bars and brush guards, which are protective accessories mounted at the front of the vehicle, these are likely to sustain damage as well.
These accessories are installed to protect the vehicle from low-impact collisions. However, brush guards have an additional function in that they provide additional mounting space for auxiliary lights.
While bull bar or brush guard replacement is a straightforward process, you should still consult a certified mechanic if you plan on re-installing this part.
Cracked or Shattered Windshields
Your vehicle’s windshield is another potential point of impact in case you get into a deer vs. car accident. In case you encounter or hit deer on the road, the animal may bounce off the front of the vehicle and crack your windshield.
If your windshield gets damaged, it’s important to replace it right away, as a compromised windshield can greatly impede your ability to see the road when you drive. Also, it acts as a safety device in that it serves as a barrier between you and objects outside your vehicle. Even a very small flying pebble can cause serious injury when driving at high speeds.
Windshield installation typically requires precision tools and expert hands, so make sure to go to your trusted auto shop for repairs, just in case.
Bent or Dented Hood and/or Fenders
Vehicle hoods are typically made of durable materials such as steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and acrylic. Not only do hoods complete a vehicle’s aesthetics, but they also protect the engine bay and other underhood components from the elements.
Should you get into an unfortunate accident involving deer or other animals, your hood may bend or become dented. Whatever the case, a compromised hood is a problem that must be addressed right away.
A significantly bent hood will not guarantee the integrity of the engine bay and underhood components. In this case, you will need to purchase a new hood kit in order to prevent additional problems down the line.
Another component that can get damaged as a result of deer collisions is your vehicle’s fender/s. The fender is a vehicle panel that houses the wheel well and prevents road debris from being thrown in the air by a spinning tire. Side-sweep accidents can damage fenders.
Before replacing this component, make sure to assess the damage first to see if there are other repair alternatives you can try.
Of all the potential damage your vehicle is likely to sustain following a deer collision, underhood damage is the most dangerous and most expensive to fix.
Once your front-end security devices (bumper, bumper covers, bull bars, etc.) break due to the impact of the collision, you can also expect damage to certain underhood components. This includes punctures to your vehicle’s radiator, which will result in coolant leaks and engine damage if not addressed properly.
In case you get into an accident with deer, perform a quick inspection of your vehicle and check for leaks. After that, wait for the first responders or call a towing company before attempting to drive your vehicle.
Damage to Brakes
You may damage your brakes in the process of abruptly trying to stop your vehicle from hitting deer. In case your brakes are ruined in the accident, it will be too dangerous for you to drive your vehicle.
The best course of action is to wait for the first responders or to call a towing company so you can bring your vehicle to an auto shop.
Shock and Strut Assembly
Your vehicle’s shock absorbers and strut assembly may also sustain significant damage after a deer collision. Shock absorbers dampen and dissipate energy to keep your vehicle stable while on the road. Meanwhile, the strut assembly provides structural support to your vehicle by carrying the weight of the vehicle while also keeping wheel alignment and steering system in check.
These components may get damaged along with the brakes, especially if you’re trying to sharply swerve away from the deer to avoid hitting it.
Shock absorber and strut assembly replacement may be intimidating to some, so definitely consult a mechanic for repairs if you’re not confident in your skills.
How Can You Avoid Deer Collisions?
While some deer-related road accidents are impossible to avoid, there are things you can do to minimize the risk.
First, it’s important to take note of how deer behave. The likelihood of deer running into the path of oncoming vehicles is significantly higher during deer season, which lasts from October to December, as previously mentioned.
Deer are also known to be on the move from sunset to midnight, and in the hours shortly before and after sunrise. With that in mind, you might want to avoid being on the road after around 6 PM.
In addition, deer rarely travel alone. If you spot a single animal on the road, you should expect to see a few more after.
Second, drive slowly and carefully in areas where deer are known to move freely. Take note of important road warnings, such as “deer crossing,” as these signs are placed near locations with rather large deer populations. Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and Texas are states with some of the highest deer populations, based on a 2015 statistic.
Third, make sure your vehicle is in good condition. In particular, make sure your high-beam headlights are working. Bright lights will illuminate the eyes of any deer on or near the road, allowing you to spot them from far away and giving you ample time to stop or change your course.
If you’re in a situation where colliding with deer or other wildlife is inevitable, carefully change lanes to give yourself more time to stop or to deal a less direct hit on the animal. If you’re unable to safely do these options, hitting the deer, while truly regrettable, is better than putting your life and other people on the road at risk.
You can check out this deer-vehicle collision infographic for information on what you should do in case you get in an accident involving deer and other wildlife.
Getting into a deer collision is an unfortunate event for both the animal and the people involved. That’s why it’s important to take all the necessary precautions to avoid injury and vehicle damage.
A well-prepared motorist and a well-equipped vehicle may spell the difference between safety and danger on the road.