Angela Herman of Stevens Point earned a right of passage of sorts for many Wisconsin residents on Jan. 27.
She hit her first deer while driving.
“It’s a roll of the dice. It was only a matter of time before I hit one,” Herman said.
Most people who grew up in Wisconsin can rattle off at least a couple of occasions when they hit the brakes to avoid a deer in the road. Many drivers say they have hit a deer or expect it in their lifetime.
Although car deer crashes remain a consistent problem on roadways in Wisconsin, high gas prices and the recession have resulted in fewer people driving in recent years.
And that drop has meant fewer crashes statewide, including those caused by deer, according to State Patrol Major Dan Lonsdorf. People also are driving more slowly to save gas and reduce their own risk for a crash, he said.
In 2000, 139,510 crashes were reported in Wisconsin and the number fell to 108,282 crashes in 2010, a 22.4 percent drop, according to state Department of Transportation data.
Motorists reported 16,921 deer vehicle crashes in 2010, based on preliminary data from the transportation department. That’s a 17 percent drop from the 20,468 reported deer vehicle crashes in 2000.
Drivers are supposed to file a report with police or the DOT if damage to their vehicle is more than $1,000, but Lonsdorf estimated that only half of deer crashes are reported to insurance companies.
“We know a significant number of those (crashes) aren’t reported to police because people don’t want them on their driving record,” Lonsdorf said.
Wisconsin might have a declining number of car deer crashes, but it is small solace for those involved in one who have to deal with vehicle repairs and insurance claims.
Deer often run across roadways while looking for mates in the fall, a time known as the rut.
Henry Yach, whose family has owned Yach’s Body and Custom in Rib Mountain since 1955, said the number of deer-vehicle crash repairs his company makes jumps each fall.
Although Yach estimated repairs to vehicles that hit deer are only 5 percent of his business, he typically hires an additional worker each fall to handle the influx of work.
Deer crashes “are definitely a portion of our business,” Yach said. “When collisions are down, it affects the business.”
State Farm Insurance says it provides insurance for 20 percent of insured motorists in the U.S. It uses the projected number of deer crashes and the number of licensed drivers to determine the likelihood of a motorist hitting a deer in each state.
Wisconsin routinely ranks in the top 10 in the report published each October.
The 2010 report noted that a Wisconsin motorist had a 1-in-96 chance of hitting a deer in the following year, the eighth highest chance in the nation, according to State Farm.
West Virginia was the state with the greatest chance to hit a deer at 1-in-42 and Hawaii was the least likely at 1-in-13,011. The national average was 1-in-183.
The average property damage cost of these crashes for State Farm clients was $3,103, up 1.7 percent from a year ago, according to the company.
Just because Wisconsin lives in a state prone to deer crashes, it doesn’t mean residents pay more for vehicle insurance.
Barb Kretsch, the marketing communications manager for Appleton-based Secura Insurance, said that claims filed for deer crashes fall under comprehensive coverage for vehicle insurance just like hail damage and broken windows.
“If a policyholder reports a claim for auto damage as a result of a deer collision, it doesn’t mean that his or her insurance premium will increase,” Kretsch said.
Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm, said insurance companies don’t charge Wisconsin residents more for their premiums because they live in a state with a good chance of having a deer crash.
A person’s driving history, the number of claims they file and state demographics such as the risk of a vehicle being stolen, involved in a crash or damaged by weather also are considered, he said.
Despite the risk of crashing into a deer and hazardous winter driving conditions, Wisconsin residents pay among the lowest rates for auto insurance.
Wisconsin motorists paid on average $581 a year for auto insurance, well below the national average of $789, according to Risk Information, a company that provides data and weekly reports on the auto insurance industry. Only motorists in six states paid less than those in Wisconsin.
Jeff Starck writes for the Wausau Daily Herald.