The number of accidents involving drivers and deer this time of year is all too real for those of us who have experienced these confrontations between animal and machine.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year that result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, about 150 human fatalities, and over 10,000 personal injuries.

There have already been several cases this fall where the collisions have had deadly consequences.

Last week, a vehicle with 10 family members was traveling from Chicago to New Jersey when their minivan hit a deer on the Indiana Toll Road. When the vehicle stopped, it was then hit by a semitrailer going about 65 mph. Seven members of the family three adults and four children died in the crash and the remaining three were hospitalized.

A week earlier, a central Missouri man was killed in an accident involving a deer on a southern Kansas highway. After his car struck the deer in the roadway at around 5 a.m., it hit a guardrail and rolled down an embankment. The driver was thrown from his car.

Based on the total number of claims filed with one of the countries largest auto insurers, Pennsylvania ranks first in deer collisions followed by Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia. Although most deer collisions are not severe enough to injure people, PennDOT data shows that injuries are more common than we realize. More than 3,100 people were injured and 43 others died in the more than 14,000 deer-strike crashes reported to the agency between 2006 and 2010.

Here are some tips to reduce your risk of striking a deer while behind the wheel:

Ÿ Drive with caution in areas known for having large deer populations and in areas where roads divide fields and forests;

Ÿ Select more major, well-lit routes if there are alternative routes to travel;

Ÿ Allow adequate space between cars to increase braking ability if a deer leaps out;

Ÿ When possible, use your high-beam lights to maximize your field of view;

Ÿ Be on the lookout for multiple deer running in a herd - wherever there is one deer, there are usually others nearby; and

Ÿ Always wear your seatbelt - most people injured in deer-related crashed were not wearing their seat belts.

Hitting a deer should not impact your auto policy premium because the driver generally is not at fault in this type of crash.

To learn more about insurance claims and auto coverage, visit www.insurance.pa.gov or call the department's toll-free consumer hotline at 1-877-881-6388.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com