COLUMBIA — Missouri drivers are more likely to collide with a deer than drivers in most other states, according to a report released this month by State Farm Insurance.
That is why the Missouri State Highway Patrol is urging Missourians to keep a watchful eye out for deer, which are being struck by moving vehicles more than usual.
Missouri drivers have a one-in-155 chance of hitting a deer in the next year, according to the report. That is a 14 percent increase from data examined five years ago.
"They're a very skittish creature," said Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull. He attributes the increase in deer-vehicle collisions in part to harvesting season. Farmers remove crops from fields that might have been a consistent food supply for deer, and the extra farm activity frightens deer off the land.
Hunting season, he added, is also a factor that might drive deer populations near highways.
"You got people walking through the woods, and that spooks them," he said.
Last year, there were 3,603 deer-vehicle collisions in Missouri, according to a release from the Highway Patrol. They resulted in two deaths and 336 injuries.
According to 2008 data gathered by the Statewide Traffic Accident Reporting System, Boone County has the sixth-highest number of deer-vehicle collisions in the state, at 127. That is a jump up from the No. 9 slot Boone County held in 2007, the Highway Patrol said.
Jim Camoriano, spokesman for State Farm Insurance in Columbia, said the autumn-to-winter season, during which deer mating and migration begin, is especially costly and dangerous.
"We know that there are more cars on the road now and there are more deer ... and we're encroaching more and more on the deer population in those areas," Camoriano said.
The average property damage from deer-vehicle wrecks is $3,050, a 3.4 percent increase from last year, the State Farm report shows.
"You rack that up," Camoriano said. "You can quickly see how many millions of dollars we are paying out."
With the increased likelihood of Missouri drivers catching a deer in their headlights, the Highway Patrol is offering precautionary advice. Tips for drivers include being particularly careful in the evening and at night — when the majority of deer strikes occur.
"It's just a matter of comfort for them," Hull said. "They like the cover of darkness, so that's why you'll see them more in the nighttime than the daytime."
A particular concern is the possibility of a driver panicking, swerving to avoid hitting the animal and leaving the lane. This has resulted in overturned cars, struck trees and rock bluffs, and collisions with oncoming cars.
"We suggest you slow down as much as possible, and if you have to hit the deer, hit the deer," Hull said. "The chances of being injured are much greater if the vehicle leaves the highway."
Camoriano said it is a common misperception that collision insurance covers deer strikes when, in reality, it only covers a collision with another vehicle. Comprehensive insurance policies, however, cover collisions with animals.
State Farm's report also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which said deer-vehicle collisions cause more than 150 fatalities per year in the U.S.
Deer travel frequently in groups, so the Highway Patrol recommends that drivers slow down and proceed with caution when they see a deer. If a deer runs across the road, Hull said, there could be others behind it.
"Don't suspect that's the only one there," he said.