U.S. motorists have had more mishaps tied to deer, led by crashes in West Virginia, according to State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the biggest U.S. home and car insurer.
Drivers had 1.23 million such collisions in the 12 months ended June 30, about 7.7 percent more than a year earlier, Bloomington, Illinois-based State Farm said in a statement today. The increase followed a three-year period in which the accidents slipped 2.2 percent and may have been fueled by a mild winter in the U.S.
“Last deer season was an extremely warm season across much of the country, and then we had a super, super easy winter,” Kip Adams, a director at the Quality Deer Management Association, said in an interview before the report was released. “We likely have more deer across much of the United States this year than we did last year.”
Drivers in West Virginia are the most prone to the collisions, with 1 in 40 motorists likely to strike a deer in the next 12 months, State Farm said. That’s up from 1 in 48. Hawaii is the state where drivers are least likely to strike deer, with odds of about 1 in 6,800.
A larger deer population leads to an increase in collisions because more of the animals are crossing roads to find food and water, Adams said. October and November, which are part of the mating season, are the most common months for the crashes, State Farm said.
In West Virginia, the hunting season started on Sept. 29 this year, a week earlier than usual, with the goal of controlling the deer population, Chris Ryan, a supervisor at the state’s Division of Natural Resources, said by phone.
The change is part of a plan “to hopefully harvest additional animals” in targeted locations, Ryan said before the report was released. Hunters “definitely wanted more time.”
Collisions typically take place at dawn and dusk, as commuters are on the roads and deer are on the move, said Susan G. Clark, a Yale University professor who studies the relationship between humans and deer.
“Deer don’t come programmed to be on the lookout for cars,” she said in a phone interview. “They have no idea that it could threaten their life. If it were a wolf, they would have some idea of what to do.”
The collisions cost an average of $3,305 in property damage nationwide, a 4.4 percent increase from a year earlier, State Farm said.