Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Use extra caution when driving in areas near wildlife

October and November are the months with the most collisions between vehicles and deer, which is compounded by fewer daylight hours and animal mating seasons and migrations. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) reports there are about 1.5 million deer-related auto accidents each year. In Washington, more than 1,100 collisions with deer and other wildlife are reported to State Patrol each year, and result in an average of nearly 1,200 human injuries. 

Hitting a deer or other large animal at highway speeds can, at best, damage your vehicle and at worst, injure or kill drivers and their passengers. The Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reports it removes nearly 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from state highways each year.

Our consumer advocates recommend that consumers check their insurance policies or contact their agents or brokers to find out if wildlife collisions are covered by the insurer. Most auto insurance policies cover such damag­e under the optional comprehensive portion of the policy. If you only have collision coverage or liability coverage, your insurer may not cover damage to your vehicle resulting from a collision with an animal. Comprehensive auto insurance also includes coverage for fire, theft, vandalism or malicious damage, riot, flood, earthquake or explosion, hail, windstorm and falling or flying objects. Filing a claim for an accident covered by your comprehensive coverage means you'll still need to pay a deductible. After that, your insurer will cover the costs of the claim up to your policy limits.

WSDOT reports the following areas of the state have the highest number of collisions with wildlife:
  • Spokane and surrounding areas, where highways intersect with white-tailed deer wintering grounds.
  • Methow River Valley, which is home to one of the state’s largest mule deer herds.
  • Wenatchee and vicinity, also home to a large number of mule deer.
  • Interstate 90 near Easton/Cle Elum has the highest number of collisions with elk.
  • Whidbey Island has a high number of deer collisions
  • Packwood/Randle off Highway 12 and North Bend off Interstate 90 have a high number of elk collisions.
Here are some tips to avoid hitting a deer or other wildlife:
  • Deer tend to travel in herds, so if you see one, watch for more. 
  • Keep an eye out for deer signs, which are placed at known deer-crossing areas. Reduce your speed when you see a sign. 
  • Animals tend to be active during dawn and dusk, so be extra-aware during those times and watch your speed. 
  • Make sure your headlights are in working order to ensure you see well at night. Using high beams can help you spot wildlife, but be considerate of other drivers when using them. 
  • Stay focused while driving. Do not text, talk on your phone or allow passengers to distract you. 
  • Always wear your seat belt. This won't prevent a collision, but it can save your life depending upon the severity of the accident. 
If you are involved in a collision with wildlife:
  • If you can, move your vehicle to a safe place and turn on your hazard lights. This may mean pulling over to the shoulder of the highway. 
  • Stay away from the animal. A frightened or wounded animal can hurt you. 
  • If you can't move your car, or the animal carcass is blocking traffic, call 9-1-1 so emergency responders can clear the roadway. 
  • Document the collision by taking photos of your vehicle damage, the roadway and any injuries. 
  • Check to see if your vehicle is safe to operate. Check for leaking fluid, damaged lights, loose parts or other safety hazards. When in doubt, call a tow truck. 
  • Report the collision to your insurance as soon as you safely can.
Read more about auto insurance on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.