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When cars meet critters: Fall is prime collision season in Texas

A dead deer lies on a road near Sherman in 2007. Crashes involving cars and animals such as deer are on the rise, according to Farmers Insurance.
A dead deer lies on a road near Sherman in 2007. Crashes involving cars and animals such as deer are on the rise, according to Farmers Insurance. Star-Telegram

When it comes to accidents on the road, four-legged creatures aren’t always our friends.

On the contrary, during certain times of year — especially the fall, during breeding season for deer — animals can be a major cause of automobile crashes in Texas.

Statewide, during September, October and November, animal collisions are a factor in 24 percent of all car crashes for which comprehensive claims are filed by customers of Farmers Insurance.

“The biggest potential hazard drivers should be on the lookout for in fall doesn’t have four wheels. It has four legs,” said Paul Quinn, the insurance company’s head of claims customer experience. “While drivers should always be aware of other cars and pedestrians while they’re on the road, the onset of fall means drivers need to be on high alert for animals on and around the road, especially larger animals like deer and elk that can total a vehicle if struck at a high speed.”

Each year, about 18 people are killed in Texas in accidents involving cars and animals.

The company’s data, which was released this month, is only a snapshot and doesn’t include claims involving policy holders of other companies.

Even so, other insurers have acknowledged that crashes involving animals are common. State Farm reported 1.25 million crashes involving deer, elk and moose nationwide between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, including 52,000 in Texas.

The Farmers Insurance study, which looked at claims filed during the autumn months in 2013-15, also found that nationally more than a third of claims related to animal collisions occur during the fall, and the number of incidents increased 2 percent in 2015 compared with the year before.

Rural versus urban

Also, the study didn’t specify how many of the accidents occurred in Texas’ rural areas versus its major cities, said Peter MacKellar, Farmers’ vice president for financial services. The company also didn’t say how many customers live in rural areas, as opposed to cities.

For city dwellers, striking a deer, wild hog or other large animal can be rare, whereas such occurrences are common in the countryside.

The biggest potential hazard drivers should be on the lookout for in fall doesn’t have four wheels. It has four legs.

Paul Quinn, Farmers Insurance

In cities and towns, claims also could be filed by drivers who damaged their vehicles by striking large domestic pets, or perhaps swerved to avoid pets, squirrels, armadillos or other critters and instead struck a curb, wall or nearby vehicle.

And there are statistics to back up the assertion that animal-car collisions can be a danger.

Each year, about 18 people are killed in Texas in crashes involving deer, according to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse. The organization’s national database included data from 2003-13.

Breeding season

In Texas, white-tailed deer are the most common form of wildlife on rural roads, said Alan Cain, a white-tailed deer program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In Texas, deer are most active during breeding season in October, November and December, he said.

“Love can get you in trouble,” he said.

He said that during drought periods animals such as deer can also be drawn to roadsides in search of green vegetation.

Feral hogs are also a frequent hazard on Texas highways, said Cain, who is based in the South Texas city of Pleasanton but monitors deer populations statewide.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

Avoiding animals

Animals are prevalent on Texas roads during the fall partly because of migratory patterns. Some tips for motorists to avoid hitting animals:

  • Minimize distraction such as mobile phones while driving.
  • Pay particular attention for the presence of wildlife at dusk and dawn, when animals tend to be more active and harder to see.
  • Use the middle lane if you’re on a multilane road.
  • If you hit an animal, call law enforcement so the carcass can be safely removed. In the case of livestock or a domestic animal, calling law enforcement will speed up the process of the owner being notified.

Sources: Farmers Insurance, various

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