"It literally ran into the side of the car and I just saw its head bounce off the hood," Robert Armstrong recalls of his run-in with a deer in the fall of 2014.
It was late at night on a two-lane highway, driving home to Colborne, Ont. from a visit to Listowel, northwest of Kitchener.
Fortunately, Armstrong was unhurt although the passenger side of his 2001 Saturn coupe was smashed. He believes the deer perished after it ran off and disappeared in the darkness.
Ontario motorists are heading into one of the riskiest times of the year, as four-legged mating season kicks into high gear and darkness comes an hour earlier with the end of daylight saving time on Sunday, Nov. 4. November is traditionally the riskiest month for automobile collisions with deer on roads and highways.
In 2015, vehicles collided with wild animals 11,540 times, according to the Ministry of Transportation's Ontario Road Safety Annual Report . (The species of animals aren't identified.) Of those reported collisions, four were fatal and 382 resulted in injuries.
In its 2017 report, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation pegged average vehicle-damage costs at $2,800. However, CARSTAR Auto Body Repair Experts, which has 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada, reports that the average cost of repairs from automobile collisions with large animals is between $2,500 and $4,999. Five per cent of repairs are between $5,000 and $10,000, store owners said.
Of course, the larger the animal, the heftier the repair bill, unless the vehicle is unsalvageable.
"Deer can do a lot of damage, that's for sure," says Armstrong, who was able to make the three-hour drive home with a bashed bumper, fender, door panel and hood.
He did his own repairs for about $700, using scrap yard parts that were repainted canary yellow to match his aging Saturn. He says that because of the extent of the damage and the car's age, his insurance company would have written it off.
Then, two months ago, he narrowly missed another crash when a deer again dashed in front of him.
All collisions resulting in more than $2,000 in damage should be reported to a collision centre.
But it's driver know-how, not luck, that determines insurance coverage of repair costs from a collision, according to industry expert Anne Marie Thomas.
Repairs are covered under the collision or comprehensive sections of an auto insurance policy. But whether the animal was moving or stationary on impact is key, says Thomas, spokesperson for InsuranceHotline.com , a rates comparison website.
If the deer was on the move and couldn't be safely avoided, a claim is paid out under the comprehensive section, she explains.
But if it was lying in the road - having already been hit - that's considered an at-fault accident and is covered by the collision section. The insurance company takes the position that the driver should have been able to brake safely and avoid the animal, says Thomas, a 30-year veteran of the insurance business.
If you swerve and hit an object or another car instead, that's also bad news.
"The rule of thumb is: if the collision is deemed to be your fault, you'll likely see an increase in your rates," Thomas says. Depending on several factors, that could be as much as 50 per cent for a driver with a clean record who hasn't purchased forgiveness coverage, which protects against a rate increase following the first at-fault accident, she says.
In general, Thomas suggests that drivers trying to save money on their policy could save 10 per cent on collision or comprehensive premiums by opting for a higher deductible of $1,000, for example.
"This sounds so horrible," she adds, but from a human safety aspect, it's better to strike a moving mammal.
"You feel bad if you hit an animal, but you'd feel worse if you swerved and hit a family in another car driving innocently down the road." Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, with the Ontario Provincial Police, echoes that advice: "If you swerve, there's a good chance you'll lose control." Instead, use the brakes to come to a controlled stop, he recommends.
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