Deer crash brings collateral damage


Chris Hardie

A deer crash caused more than $6,000 in damage to Chris Hardie’s car. The insurance company says it’s not worth that much, so it’s a total wreck.

Chris Hardie, Journalist

I don’t play the lottery and don’t frequent casinos, but if I were a betting man, I’d lay odds that sometime in the next few years I will be involved in a deer-vehicle collision.

A deer crash caused more than $6,000 in damage to Chris Hardie’s car. The insurance company says it’s not worth that much, so it’s a total wreck.

Regular readers of this column will recall that I prefer hunting deer in the woods, but unfortunately, I’ve harvested a few on the road. My tally in more than 43 years of driving was four deer fatalities, a few hard hits, some bumps and quite a few close calls. That’s what you expect If you drive enough in Wisconsin, where State Farm Insurance says drivers have a 1 in 57 chance of hitting a deer. Since I’ve driven more than a million miles by my estimate, my odds go up.

I certainly didn’t have a goal of becoming a deer ace, but that’s what happened recently when I collided with deer No. 5. I was taking my mother to a doctor appointment at 6:15 a.m. and a deer ran in front of the car.

All five of my deer hits occurred when a deer running at full speed jumped out in front of the vehicle at a perpendicular angle. Those are the ones that you don’t see until the last second, giving you no chance to stop. Swerving at higher speeds is never a good idea because that’s when you can lose control of the vehicle and make things worse.

I’m certainly not in select company. There are roughly 20,000 deer killed annually by vehicles in Wisconsin, where the deer population is in the neighborhood of 1.5 million. Several hundred drivers or passengers are injured and there are a few fatalities – especially for motorcycle drivers.

Nationally there are 1.5 million deer crashes per year, more than 10,000 injuries and 175 to 200 fatalities.

Mom and I were both uninjured. My closest call to being potentially injured was in 2007 when I struck a large buck that flew up and over the car – putting a dent in the roof – and landing in the highway behind me. I expected to see a dead deer in the road when I pulled over, but he had enough momentum to run off into the woods. I was lucky it didn’t take out my windshield and join me inside the car.

This last accident took out the left front of our car, bending the hood, wiping out the entire left front and obliterating the headlight. It was a hard hit, but the airbags did not deploy. I dragged plastic body parts on the road taking my mother home and pulled them off when there was some daylight.

After I notified county authorities – the deer was lying dead in the road and needed to be removed – they sent me an email with a link to a state accident report. I then notified my insurance company.

State law says you need to fill out an accident report if the damage is more than $1,000. With prices today, you can spit on a car and cause $1,000 worth of damage.

My fears were realized when the insurance adjuster gave me my estimate. The estimated price to repair the vehicle was more than $6,100 and they valued the car at about $5,000. So the car was a total loss.

Some folks might be happy about getting a small cash settlement and using it to buy a newer car. Not me. This model was from 2009, but it had only 120,000 miles, which is about half of what I thought it would last and it’s been paid off for years.

Trying to find a reliable car for $5,000 in these inflationary days is a challenge. I found an identical model and year with 25,000 more miles at a local car dealer for $7,000. So the same car with even more miles is worth $7,000 if you’re buying but my car with fewer miles was worth only $5,000.

I call that a nice margin.

My other option was to take the $5,000 – minus our $250 deductible – and buy the car back for $900 – the price set by the insurance company – under a salvage title. While it was tempting – and I’m an artist with twine and duct tape – I’d have to figure out how to fix the car so it would pass an inspection and then find an insurer who would cover the liability.

So even though it still runs fine, the car was junked. New car payments are not a part of this  year’s budget, so we’ll have to get by for a while with one less vehicle. We still have a newer pickup and my rusty but trusty farm truck, so we’ll be fine.

Maybe I’ll have enough time to get over my case of vehicle sticker shock.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].