As rutting season intensifies and more and more groups of deer are congregating along New Jersey roadways, the Garden State finds itself in the middle of the pack of State Farm's annual, state-by-state ranking of animal collisions claims.

From July 1, 2021 through this past June 30, New Jersey placed 32nd in the United States with nearly 32,000 claims, according to the insurer, amounting to a risk of about 1 in 195 for drivers.

That's a slower pace than the nation as a whole, about 1 in 116, and New Jerseyans need only look west to find the No. 1 state in State Farm's ranking -- Pennsylvania, with 155,000 claims over the same one-year period.

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Dave Phillips, State Farm senior public affairs specialist, said 69% of the 1.9 million animal collisions claims paid out by insurance companies in that time were because of deer, but deer are not alone in triggering driving mishaps.

"Some of the other animals that you see causing these types of accidents are things like dogs, cats, farm animals in rural areas, and rodents like raccoons," Phillips said.

He adds that some of these may not actually hit a person's vehicle, but could dart out and make a motorist swerve, causing a crash that could result in injury or death.

Phillips also cautioned drivers to beware the "catapult," when a deer hits one car but then may ricochet and slam into another.

When are you most likely to hit an animal in New Jersey?

This is the prime time of year for animal encounters, according to State Farm: November is the month with the highest number of incidents, followed by October and December.

Deer dominate the stats during this period for several reasons, Phillips said.

"They're sort of migrating away from areas that they commonly stay with, and they're also looking for increased vegetation," he said, adding "we're heading into what's going to end up being daylight saving time shortly, and that also can have an impact on the number of deer that are hit. They're primarily active during dusk and dawn."

Are drivers becoming more aware of roadside animals?

If there is a silver lining in State Farm's numbers, it is a 5.5% year-over-year decrease in animal-caused claims, which may have something to do with drivers gaining a better general sense of wildlife risks.

But Phillips said it's probably mostly attributable to post-COVID driving habits normalizing, with more and more people working from home.

"That's just something to think about in terms of the decrease and reduction, but we would also like to think that part of that reduction comes in that people have become much more aware over the last several years," he said.

What can you do to minimize your risk?

State Farm suggests several tips for drivers both to prevent animal collisions and for what they should do next if, unfortunately, a crash does occur.

Slowing down, scanning the road, using high beams where appropriate, and buckling up are the major keys, as well as braking firmly and not swerving if a direct hit seems imminent.

After a collision, pull over safely, take pictures, call the police and start an insurance claim, and don't approach the injured animal.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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