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Status Report, Vol. 49, No. 9 | November 6, 2014 Subscribe

Colliding with deer is costly, especially for some vehicles

If you drive in a rural area, chances are good that either you or someone in your family has hit a deer. Fixing the damage to your car, pickup or SUV can be costly, but on average it's not as pricey as colliding with another vehicle, a new HLDI analysis shows. What's more, some vehicles seem to be deer bait, racking up higher-than-average insurance losses.

Fall brings a sharp rise in insurance claims related to collisions with animals, mainly deer, in many parts of the country. Animal-strike claims peak in November and then drop off in December and January. The high claim period coincides with deer mating season when bucks roam (see "Risk of collisions with deer is highest during November," Nov. 20, 2012)

West Virginia, Iowa and Pennsylvania had the highest November claim frequency for animal strikes among U.S. states during 2006-13, an April HLDI report found. West Virginia's November claim frequency of 51.6 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years (one vehicle insured for one year or two vehicles for six months each, etc.) was about 3½ times the national average for the month.

Repairs for damage to a vehicle from striking an animal are covered under comprehensive insurance, which also covers theft or physical damage to a policyholder's own vehicle for reasons other than crashes. For other kinds of crashes, rear-enders for instance, collision coverage insures against physical damage to the at-fault driver's vehicle in a crash.

Of the 36 companies that provide HLDI with data on comprehensive coverage and claims, 23 specify whether the claim was for an animal strike or something else. HLDI's latest reports on animal strikes include only data from those 23 insurers. HLDI has been reporting on animal strikes since 2008.

Claim severity by point of impact, animal strike vs. collision
Average collision claim severity = $3,510
Average animal strike claim severity = $2,730

The average cost of an animal-strike claim under comprehensive coverage for 2001-14 models during calendar years 2004-13 was $2,730. That's a hefty price but still lower than the average payout of $3,510 for a collision claim, HLDI found.

"The majority of animal-strike claims are for front-end damage," says Matt Moore, vice president of HLDI. "If vehicle manufacturers could use front crash prevention systems to detect animals, many of these crashes could be prevented."

Eighty-seven percent of animal-strike claims involve the front of a vehicle. The next most frequent impact point is to the driver side of the vehicle (7 percent), followed by the passenger side (5 percent) and rear (1 percent). In contrast, 52 percent of collision claims involve the front of a vehicle, followed by rear impacts at 28 percent, the passenger side (11 percent) and driver side (10 percent).

In a separate report, HLDI analysts compiled a list of the top 10 vehicles with the highest and lowest losses for animal-strike claims among 2011-13 models. The vehicles with the most-expensive animal-strike losses tend to be cars, while SUVs and pickup trucks dominate the list of vehicles with the lowest overall losses, taking into account claim frequency and claim severity, expressed as dollars per insured vehicle year.

The Hyundai Elantra GT, a small four-door car, had the highest animal-strike overall losses at more than twice the all-passenger vehicle average. Next worst was the Toyota Prius c hybrid small car.

Two SUVs from Jeep lead the lowest-loss list. The Wrangler two-door small SUV and four-door midsize model had the lowest overall losses for animal strikes at about one-third of the all-passenger vehicle average. Next best are the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab large pickup and another Jeep, the Grand Cherokee four-door midsize SUV.

The combined animal-strike claim frequency for 2011-13 model passenger vehicles was 7.9 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years, with an average claim severity of $3,384. Cars had the highest claim frequency at 9 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years. Very large luxury cars had the highest claim severities ($5,888 per claim), and very large SUVs had the lowest ($2,664 per claim).

HLDI standardized the results to control for demographic and geographic variables. Losses were standardized by calendar year, model year, garaging state, number of registered vehicles per square mile, driver age, gender, marital status, deductible and risk.

State Farm estimates that 1.22 million collisions involving deer occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. West Virginia tops State Farm's list of states where an individual driver is most likely to hit a deer, followed by Pennsylvania and Montana.

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