November 22, 2004

Fatal collisions with animals in U.S. jumps 27% in 2003

Arlington, Virginia – In a new study of the characteristics of fatal vehicle-animal crashes in the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 60 percent of the people killed riding in vehicles weren’t using safety belts, and 65 percent of those killed riding on motorcycles weren’t wearing helmets. Most of the motor vehicle crash deaths in collisions with animals such as deer occurred in subsequent events when a vehicle ran off the road or a motorcyclist fell off the bike.

“A majority of the people killed in these crashes weren’t killed by contact with the animal,” says Allan Williams, the Institute’s chief scientist. “As in other kinds of crashes, safety belts and motorcycle helmets could have prevented many of the deaths.”

Fatal crashes involving animals have increased since the mid-1990s, federal government data show. During 1998-2002, the annual average was 155 crashes in which vehicle occupants died. This compares with an average of 119 fatal crashes during 1993-97. In 2003 there were 201 fatal crashes, a 27 percent increase compared with 2002.

The Institute examined 147 police reports on vehicle-animal collisions in which there was a human fatality. These deaths occurred in nine states representing different regions of the country (Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin). The reports account for 32 percent of the fatal vehicle-animal crashes in the United States during 2000-02.

Passenger vehicles were most frequently involved. They accounted for more than half of the crashes. However, motorcycles were the striking vehicles in more than one-third of the cases, even though registered cars, SUVs, and pickups outnumber motorcycles on the road by about 40 to 1.

Most collisions involve one vehicle only: eighty percent of the vehicle-animal collisions involved a single passenger vehicle, motorcycle, truck, all-terrain vehicle, or moped. In 38 percent of the crashes a motorcycle struck an animal, and the rider fell off either immediately or at some point during the crash sequence. Thirty-six percent of the crashes involved a passenger vehicle or truck striking an animal and subsequently running off the road and striking a fixed object such as a tree and/or overturning. In 5 percent of the crashes, the animal went through the windshield of the striking vehicle.

Deer were struck in 3 out of every 4 crashes, but collisions with other animals such as cattle, horses, dogs, and a bear also led to fatalities. Crashes with deer were most likely to occur in the late fall, coinciding with breeding season and migration. These crashes occurred most frequently in rural areas, on roads with 55 mph or higher speed limits, and in darkness or at dusk or dawn.

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