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October 1, 2013

Deer-auto crashes decline in U.S. as disease thins herd

Collisions tied to deer in the U.S. fell 3.5 percent as disease cut the population of the animals.

Deer-related vehicle crashes totaled 1.22 million in the 12 months ended June 30, according to a statement Monday from State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the biggest U.S. car and home insurer.

There were "fewer deer to hit this year," Kip Adams, a director at the Quality Deer Management Association, a group that promotes sustainable hunting, said in an interview before the report was released. The population had been cut by car accidents in prior seasons "plus a lot of deer dying of disease," Adams said.

Crashes are most common in October and November, which are in the mating season for deer, the Bloomington, Illinois-based insurer said. Collisions cost an average of $3,414 in property damage nationwide, a 3.3 percent increase from a year earlier.

"We've seen up to $6,000," said Dave Huskey, who manages Minor Wreck Express, an auto repair business in Iowa. He said engineering advances have helped protect people inside the cars, though vehicles are still vulnerable to damage, often involving bumpers, side panels and windshields.

"The cars look worse because they're absorbing the impact rather than passing it on to the passengers," Huskey said in a telephone interview. "It takes a lot of damage to get inside the frame."

Reports of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease spiked in 2012 for deer from Louisiana to Montana. The virus spreads through biting flies, or midges, and causes fever and internal bleeding.

"With the tendency toward warmer, shorter winters, the midge is reaching higher levels," said Brent Rudolph, a wildlife research specialist with Michigan's Department of Natural Resources. The heat "creates conditions that are really good for the midges."

Rudolph said there were about 15,000 deaths reported from the disease in Michigan in the summer. That compares with "a few thousand" in prior years, he said.

West Virginia led the country for the seventh straight year as the state where motorists are most likely to hit a deer, according to the report. One in 41 drivers there will probably strike a deer in the next 12 months, the insurer said. Montana drivers are next most likely to crash, followed by vehicle operators in Iowa, South Dakota and Pennsylvania.

Hawaii has the lowest chance of collisions, with odds of about 1-in-6,787. New York drivers are the 24th most likely to have deer-related mishaps among the 50 states, with a 1-in-157 chance. California, Florida and Texas were all classified by the insurer as low-risk states.

"What we have are roads at the bottom of hills and ridge tops, and roads near streams and valleys," said James Anderson, director of West Virginia University's Environmental Research Center. "In other places there are more defined crossing areas, and here deer will cross just about anywhere."

West Virginia, known as the Mountain State, is heavily forested and has winding roads that decrease visibility for drivers and animals.

Deer are most active between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and often travel in groups, meaning that if one is visible, drivers should be on guard for more nearby, State Farm said. If a collision seems inevitable, State Farm advises drivers to avoid swerving, which can cause loss of vehicle control and put other motorists at risk.

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