LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas ranks ninth in the nation in the likelihood of collisions between vehicles and deer, up from 14th in the nation a year ago, according to estimates by State Farm Insurance.
Nationwide, the number of deer-related accidents has increased by 7.7 percent over the past year, after a three-year period in which collisions declined by 2.2 percent, the insurer said.
Using its claims data and the Federal Highway Administration’s count of licensed drivers in Arkansas, State Farm estimated that the odds of an Arkansas motorist hitting a deer in the next 12 months are 1 in 102.5, compared with 1 in 122 last year.
An expected 20,000 deer-related collisions in Arkansas would mean a cost of more than $60 million in insurance claims, State Farm said.
Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the estimates are not surprising.
"We’re seeing a population increase in Northwest Arkansas, along with, we have a real good deer population in Northwest Arkansas," he said. "You put those two together and you can see an increase in deer-vehicle collisions. But all that goes into our equation when we manage deer.
"That’s why we’re liberalizing (the bag limit) in some areas of the state, trying to reduce the number of deer-human conflict. We’ve liberalized it in south Arkansas and in north Arkansas too, Northwest primarily."
In portions of southern Arkansas the commission has raised the bag limit in recent years from four deer per season to six. In portions of northern and Northwest Arkansas the agency has raised the limit from three to four.
The commission also has sought to control the deer population by adding some doe-only hunts.
Gray said the agency has to be careful as it seeks to maintain a delicate balance.
"In the past we went very liberal in … the Ozarks and we’ve actually over-harvested deer, and it takes several years to rebound," he said.
West Virginia leads the nation in the likelihood of vehicle-deer collisions for the sixth year in a row, according to State Farm. The odds of a West Virginia motorist hitting a deer are 1 in 40, the company said.
Rounding out the top five in descending order are South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The state where a vehicle-deer collision is least likely to occur is Hawaii.
State Farm estimated that 1.23 million collisions caused by the presence of deer occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012.
November is the month when deer-related accidents are most likely, followed by October and December.
To avoid deer-related accidents, State Farm recommends that drivers be aware of deer crossing signs; remember that deer are most common in the early evening and morning hours; use high-beam headlamps as much as possible at night; avoid swerving if possible; and remember that if you see one deer, others are probably nearby.