It’s Not Your Fault You Hit a Deer in NJ — But it Can Still Cost You
Drivers in New Jersey filed tens of thousands of animal collision claims over a recent 12-month period, according to new research.
Many times, vehicle-versus-animal accidents are the result of some very bad luck. But you may still have to pay a price to rebound from the incident, especially if the decisions you made leading up to the crash made matters even worse.
According to State Farm, New Jersey drivers rank 24th in the U.S. for the number of animal collision claims between July 2022 and June 2023. State Farm used its own data along with industry-wide metrics to estimate that motorists in the Garden State made more than 30,000 of these claims within that time frame.
State Farm's research suggests that New Jersey drivers have a one in 213 chance of colliding with an animal while driving. The national average is one in 127.
Am I covered by insurance if I hit an animal?
Ramming into a deer or any animal falls under comprehensive coverage, if you have it. This type of add-on coverage is actually meant to handle non-collision damage, but animal encounters are part of the package.
"It can have an impact on your rates, and what that impact is varies from carrier to carrier," said Gary La Spisa, vice president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey.
There are a few factors that determine whether or not you'd see a difference in your rate after an animal collision. If it's the first-ever claim on your policy, certain carriers may be less likely that others to jack up your rates, La Spisa said. Or if it's been recorded that you were breaking the law while colliding with the deer — for example, you were driving recklessly or impaired — the incident won't be seen as just a bad run of luck.
What if I crash after swerving to avoid an animal?
In many of the claims cited by State Farm, the damage wasn't necessarily caused by the animal — drivers swerved out of the way and hit another vehicle or other object such as a pole or tree. In these instances, the accidents are handled under your collision coverage.
"An insurer may conclude that because the swerving maneuver was a choice made by the driver, the driver is at fault for the accident," Bankrate.com said in an August 2023 blog post. "Regardless of how fault is determined, collision coverage would likely help cover the repair costs if the driver hit a stationary object after swerving to avoid an animal. However, an at-fault accident can seriously impact your car insurance rates."
Tips to avoid catastrophic animal collisions
Insurers and safety advocates advise against swerving to avoid a deer in the road — a crash or rollover can occur when a driver decides to sharply swerve, rather than brake. Also, use extra caution during dawn and dusk, and slow down in known animal-crossing zones.
"The most important thing when it comes to collision is speed," said Dave Phillips, a spokesperson for State Farm. "If you're going slower or if you're following the speed limit, the impact with that animal is going to do less damage to you and your vehicle."
The carrier notes that claim costs for animal collisions can vary widely, from a bumper scratch to a total loss.
In State Farm's research, Pennsylvania ranked No.1 for animal collision claims — 153,000 over a year's time. New York came in at No. 6.
Deer made up the large majority of vehicle damage, followed by rodents, dogs, raccoons, and coyotes.
According to State Farm, November is the top month for animal collisions, followed by October, December, and September.
Peak mating season for deer in New Jersey starts in late October and runs through mid-December.