Drivers struck more than 2 million animals during the pandemic
The memory of hitting an animal while driving can be hard to forget, even for a very young child. It was a sunny morning. The whole family was on a road trip, their car travelling on the high speed lane of the freeway. Then, out of nowhere, an adult German shepherd crossed the road like a lightening. The father driving reduced the speed but ended up hitting the animal with the edge of the front bumper. There was nothing that could be done. The dog kept running across all lanes, and no one knows what happened to it. This could have been a very serious accident, had the car crashed with other cars or overturned. It’s a vivid memory, the child sitting in the back seat was me.
During the recent 12-month period between July of 2020 and June of 2021, similar scenes occurred an estimated 2.1 million times across US roads (7.2% more than in the previous twelve months) according to an annual analysis by State Farm, the leader auto insurer in the United States.
Crashes between motor vehicles and animals happen in every state and all year round, yet the data confirms that the most dangerous months for animal collisions are November, October and December, in this order, and just like in the previous 12-month period.
Different points of view
From a geographical perspective, the top 5 states in terms of animal collisions were: Pennsylvania (with 166,404 estimated auto insurance claims filed for the entire industry), Michigan (132,387), Texas, where the estimated total number of animal strike claims (131,373) grew 19% since the previous period, California, where the claims number (104,767) exploded by a 65% compared to the previous 12-month period, and North Carolina (98,409).
Interestingly, looking at the likelihood that drivers have of hitting an animal renders a different ranking: it turns out that West Virginia leads the nation in this type of risk (1 in 37 chance), followed by Montana, where the chances of hitting an animal (1 in 39) grew 17% since the previous period, South Dakota (1 in 48), Michigan and Pennsylvania (both, with 1 in 54 chance).
Compare that to what happens in the District of Columbia, where it is estimated that less than one thousand animal collisions took place during the recent 12-month period observed, and where drivers have a much lower probability of 1 in 569 of hitting an animal.
The two different types of state rankings differ because for the likelihood of animal collisions ranking, both the number of license drivers and the total number of animal collisions in each state affect the calculation, while for the claims ranking, only the first variable (estimated number of industry claims) matters.
Many times animal collisions end up in road kills, and often in injuries or even deaths of drivers and passengers. From a material perspective, the damage to the vehicles can vary wildly, from a scratch or a bump to a car being completely totaled, depending on factors such as the speed at which one is driving or the size of the animal being hit.
“Animal collisions remind us of the intrinsic risk that comes with driving a motor vehicle that has the potential of travelling very fast. Scanning the road while we drive and avoiding speeding, which has been very prevalent during the pandemic, can avoid and reduce the severity of all kind of car crashes, including those where pets or wild animals are involved,” said Operations Vice President Kimberly Sterling, Auto Claims teams lead at State Farm.
The range of animals involved in auto crashes is extremely diverse. Our claims database for this type of incident might make one think of an inventory of Noah’s Ark. In our files we find chickens, alligators, bats, cows, pigs, armadillos, bears, donkeys, eagles, horses, coyotes, owls, cats, dogs... and the list goes on. And then there’s the “unidentified animals” category: those that drivers were unable to identify at the time of the accidents, often due to how fast everything happened, and those for which claim specialists simply didn’t have more information. However, nationwide, in the recent 12-month period observed, more than half of the time the animal being hit was a deer (an estimated 1.4 million of them), followed by “unidentified animals” (189,715), rodents (110,976), dogs (92,924) and raccoons (58,020).
For the calculation of the industry claim estimates, we took into account the number of animal collisions claims received by State Farm, the company's market penetration (proprietary), and the number of licensed drivers in each state.
Prevent as much as you can
Speeding has been one of the most dangerous phenomenons during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calling 2020 the deadliest year (for humans) on highways in more than a decade. Similarly, speed could also be a factor behind the staggering animal collision statistics and their recent increase.
Here is a list of 10 tips that could help you reduce the odds of going through the experience of hitting an animal with your motor vehicle.
- Slow down, especially if you see an animal close to the road.
- Stay alert. Scan the road for animals day and night, both in the countryside and in the city, and pay attention to “deer crossing” and other animal signs.
- Reduce distractions. Put the cell phone away. It can help you avoid injuring motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians and animals too.
- Brake as necessary. If you can avoid hitting the animal, reduce your speed, honk your horn and tap your brakes to warn other drivers.
- Don't swerve. If a crash with an animal is inevitable, maintain control of your vehicle and don't veer off the road.
- Use high beams. Flicking your high beams on a deer may cause the animal to scurry away.
- Be aware of peak season. Deer crashes happen most often during October through December, which is hunting and mating season.
- Be mindful of meal time. Watch for animals on the road between dusk and dawn.
- Watch for herds. If you see one deer, there are probably more nearby.
- Speak with your State Farm agent about comprehensive coverage, which typically covers repairs for collisions with animals, after your deductible.
If despite all of this you hit an animal, take a deep breath. Make sure you and your passengers are well. Call 911 if the animal is large and still there after you hit it. Check if your vehicle is drivable. When safe to do so, take pictures and, if needed, you can file a claim in multiple ways.
Finally, if you had children with you in the vehicle when the crash with an animal occurred, take a few moments to talk about what happened. Allowing emotions to be expressed, instead of putting them under the rug can go a long way, and acknowledging that driving always comes with risks may be very helpful for everyone for years to come.