Many Springfield auto body shops are inundated with repair work due to the annual fall influx of collisions between cars and deer.
"It started a month ago, and we've already written over 70 repair estimates for deer hits," said Nate Lillich, owner and vice president at Hammer's Autoworks, Inc., in Springfield. "It doesn't matter where you live — in the country or in the city — we still see lots of damage from collisions with deer."
Just within Springfield city limits, the public works department recorded 19 deer collisions in 2015 that damaged vehicles. According to the city, vehicles have hit seven deer so far in Springfield this year. According to one report, the average repair bill is $3,995. Missouri averages thousands of injuries and three deaths per year. And one in every 117 Missouri drivers is likely to hit a deer this year.
Missouri's whitetail deer are in the middle of rutting season, when bucks blindly chase does in an attempt to mate with them. The deer wander through yards and city streets and busy highways, often with disastrous results for both the deer and the cars that hit them.
"Typically, unless you just bump them at low speed, if you're going 30 to 50 mph and hit a deer you're looking at a $2,000 repair," Lillich said. "But we've got a (GMC) Terrain in the shop right now with $16,000 in damage from a deer hit. And if your air bags go off, the cost goes up a lot to fix it."
Fair Grove resident Thomas Voorhis, the driver of that Terrain, said he had only a split-second warning of "Deer!" from his wife, Sara, before the animal smashed into the front of his car recently in Dallas County.
"That car was only four months old; it was brand new with only 10 miles on it when we got it," Voorhis said. "The deer hit the right front and took out the whole grille. Both side panels got crunched and bent. I had to force my door open to get out."
Thankfully, his wife and their 19-month-old son, Sebastian, were safely buckled in.
Three weeks after the collision, the Voorhis family is about to get its repaired car back. Voorhis said he's out $1,000 for the insurance deductible, but he did at least come away with 40 pounds of deer hamburger, 16 pounds of deer sausage and 4 pounds of deer jerky after getting a deer tag to legally keep the animal.
"That's some expensive deer meat," Voorhis joked.
At Dodson-Williams Auto Body repair shop in Springfield, shop manager David Heideman said it's not just deer rutting season that triggers roadway collisions.
"After hunting season starts, that also gets them moving," he said. "On average, we're seeing one or two car-deer collision repairs come in per day right now. We're pretty busy."
Firearms deer season began Nov. 12 in Missouri, and hunters had already killed 122,818 deer by midday Wednesday.
Lillich said car-deer collisions tend to taper off by the end of December but pick up again in the spring after does have babies and the mothers and their young begin to move about. They're often hit trying to cross highways, the fawns not recognizing that speeding cars pose a threat.
Lillich and Heideman said there's no single kind of car that survives a deer hit better than the rest. It all depends on how fast the vehicle is moving and where on the vehicle the collision occurs.
Sometimes it's just the corner fender and panel that takes the hit, a fairly straightforward repair. Other times, a deer might hit the front corner of a car and bang its way down the side, damaging numerous metal panels along the way, resulting in a much bigger repair bill.
"We've got a Tahoe in here now with the antlers still sticking in it," Heideman said. "As for blood and stuff, we'll typically do a wash down, but most of the yuck is on the exterior of the car."
Worst-case scenarios are when a vehicle hits a deer head-on at high speed and the animal comes up over the hood and crashes through the windshield.
"Years ago, a customer came in who was driving a Chevy Tahoe going 60 to 70 mph," Lillich recalled. "A deer jumped from the side of the road and went through the back glass window on the side of the car. The impact cut the deer in half, with half of it going over the top while the other half flew out the Tahoe's back window. It's not fun cleaning up something like that. Typically you're going to replace a lot of stuff, like carpet and seat covers, instead of trying to wash it clean."
Heideman said the worst thing to do if you encounter a deer on the roadway is to try to swerve around it.
"If you do, you're putting yourself at bigger risk of losing control of your car and possibly hitting other people coming toward you," he said. "Plus, if you roll your car it's going to be way more expensive than repairing a frontal collision, and you could also lose your life."
4 deaths a year, on average, in Missouri
Deer-vehicle collisions can be deadly, as happened seven miles north of Springfield when a Fair Grove man hit a deer that crashed through the windshield of his F-250 pickup truck, killing him.
Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jason Pace said three Missourians died last year in vehicle collisions with deer, and there were 346 injuries from the 3,720 deer collisions in the state. He said most deer collisions happen in November, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The International Institute of Highway Safety tracks all kinds of roadway accidents, including those involving collisions with animals. In Missouri, from 2005 through 2014, an average of four people a year died in a vehicle collision with an animal (mostly deer). Missouri's 10-year death toll total of 40 people in animal-motor vehicle collisions almost matched the national average of 39.3 deaths per year.
Texas and Wisconsin had the most human fatalities by a large margin — 187 and 121 deaths, respectively. Rhode Island had the fewest human fatalities from collisions with animals, with two deaths in that 10-year period. Connecticut and Delaware ranked second-lowest in fatality numbers, with four human deaths total for each state during that time frame.
Aside from the tragic toll in human and deer lives, the financial cost of deer-vehicles is staggering, according to the State Farm Insurance company.
In its 2015-2016 annual report on animal-vehicle collisions, State Farm found the average cost of a vehicle repair was $3,995.08, down slightly from $4,135 the prior year. A year earlier, State Farm calculated the total economic cost of deer-vehicle collisions to be more than $4 billion.
State Farm also calculated the likelihood of a motorist colliding with a deer from July 2015 through June 2016. In Missouri, one of every 117 motorists was likely to hit a deer, according to State Farm, ranking Missouri as a high-risk state for such a collision.
For comparison, State Farm ranked West Virginia as the most likely state for a motorist to hit a deer, with one driver in 41 likely to have such an encounter. Hawaii was the least likely place for deer collisions — one in 18,955 — while in the lower 48 states, Arizona was the least likely state in which to hit a deer, with odds of one in 1,175.
The Missouri Department of Insurance encourages you to review your auto insurance policies, since not all policies cover damage caused by deer strikes.
Comprehensive coverage is optional insurance, but it does cover deer strikes. If you only have collision coverage or liability coverage, your insurance carrier will not cover damage to your vehicle resulting from a collision with an animal. You should also consult your insurance agent to find out how much coverage you need.
“We want to remind Missourians to be aware of their surroundings, to slow down and always wear their seat belts,” said Director John Huff of the Insurance Department. “Deer strikes can cause serious damage to your vehicle, and not all types of auto insurance policies cover deer strikes. It is important to review your policy and speak with your agent."
The department offered these tips to avoid deer collisions:
• Deer tend to travel in herds, so if you see one, look out for more.
• Keep an eye out for deer-crossing signs. Reduce your speed when you see a sign.
• Deer are more active during dawn and dusk, so be extra conscious during these times and watch your speed.
• Make sure your headlights are working properly. 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.
What to do after an accident
• Stay calm.
• If you can, move your vehicle to a safe place, like a highway shoulder, and turn on your hazard lights.
• Stay away from the deer. A frightened or wounded deer can lash out and hurt you.
• If you can't move your car or the deer carcass is blocking traffic, alert the authorities so they can clear the roadway.
• Document the incident 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.
Missouri consumers can call the department’s Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-726-7390 with questions on deer accidents or go to the department’s website at www.insurance.mo.gov for additional resources.
Animal collisions in Springfield
Data shows animal-vehicle collisions inside Springfield city limits that caused damage to the vehicle, for the past five years.
2012 – 17 deer, 2 dogs
2013 – 13 deer
2014 -10 deer, 1 opossum, 1 dog
2015 -19 deer, 5 dogs
2016, through June - 7 deer, 1 dog
We would like to thank The Springfield News-Leader for reprint permission.