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Car vs. moose: Colliding with danger

If you meet a moose on the roadway, the damage to your vehicle could be as massive as the animal itself.

Moose, which average 1,000 pounds each, are a threat to drivers in Alaska and Maine, where the animals are seen often, as well as states such as New Hampshire, Vermont, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan and Minnesota.

“We realize that in certain states the moose are quite prevalent. We’re seeing more of those accidents and seeing that it is an issue,” says Missy Dondov, a spokeswoman for State Farm, the country’s largest auto insurer.

Since the moose is a species in the deer family, State Farm’s estimate of 1.09 million deer-vehicle collisions between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, includes moose.

Most moose-vehicle accidents occur from April to November, with the fall being an active time because moose are on the move for mating season. It’s important to take steps to avoid hitting a moose -- and to choose insurance coverage that will protect you in case of a collision.

Hitting the beast

Vehicle damage can range from dented and smashed hoods and headlights to totaled cars, insurance and wildlife experts say. Run-ins with moose even have led to multicar pileups, such as a March 2011 five-car accident on an interstate in Utah. carcras2

If you’re involved in an accident with a moose, you need comprehensive coverage (which is optional) to help repair or replace a damaged car.

Some accidents have more dire consequences for drivers and passengers. Moose-car collisions can be fatal, such as a July 2012 wreck that killed a man in Canada. Overall, 2,871 U.S. deaths were caused in animal crashes in 2010, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Car crashes involving moose cause a “disproportionately high number of injuries” compared with collisions involving other animals, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined accidents in Maine. In Maine, 3,400 crashes from 2000 to 2004 involved moose.

In Alaska, which is thought to have the world's highest rate of moose-vehicle collisions, moose-related wrecks annually result in millions of dollars in property damage and medical bills, state officials say. More than 14,000 crashes between 1977 and 2006 were triggered by moose, with 83 percent resulting only in property damage.

“They’re not things that you want to be hitting, for sure,” says Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, which sponsors a “Brake for Moose” public awareness campaign. “People had this belief that if there wasn’t a sign that said, ‘Caution, Moose Crossing,’ they didn’t have to worry abut it. Wild animals cross the road whatever they want. They don’t necessarily stop because they see you coming. In fact, sometimes it may cause them to run and cross directly in front of you.”

One driver’s moose mess

Even drivers who know to be on their guard for moose near roadways can be blindsided by the animals.

“They’re big, stupid animals. They’re the king of our jungle up here,” says Jean Gutmann, a retired professor at the University of Southern Maine whose car was totaled in a September 2011 moose accident.

Gutmann, who lives in the town of Eustis, was driving about 55 mph on a country road without shoulders when a moose jumped out from a ditch and hit her 2008 Subaru Outback. The accident happened about 6:15 p.m. on her way home from work.

“There were shadows on the side of the road he came from, because the sun was behind those trees,” she says. “All of a sudden there is this big black thing in front of me. I didn’t know what happened until 3 o’clock in the morning when the nurse in the ICU told me.”

Although Gutmann has seen moose on other roadways, it was the first time she had seen one on that road, which she travels often. “Now here it is, I’m smacked by one,” she says.

She didn’t have time to slam on the brakes. The moose went over the car, tearing off the roof rack, crumpling the hood and causing the shatterproof windshield to implode. The back of the vehicle was dented, and the rear windshield wiper was torn off.

Police officers told Gutmann and her husband, a passenger who was uninjured: “You just wiped (the moose) off his feet. He was kind of stumbling over your car.”

Since moose are 6 feet tall at the shoulder, they can be difficult to spot. Headlights tend to hit at their legs, which are similar to the color of pavement, and cars strike moose at their knees, causing their bodies to collapse onto the windshield and roof, Rines says.

Gutmann was taken by air ambulance to Central Maine Medical Center, where she stayed in ICU for two days to be treated for several skull fractures, and spent another day under observation. She also had a broken nose and facial cuts.

She says she faced about $27,000 in hospital bills. Her health insurance covered all but a couple of thousand dollars. If her passenger would have been injured, comprehensive coverage would have provided financial assistance. Comprehensive coverage, which is optional, pays for animal encounters as well as situations like fire damage and theft.

Gutmann says her insurer, GEICO, handled the claim efficiently and paid about 75 percent of the vehicle’s market value. She used the claim payout to buy a 2012 Subaru Outback.

Four ways to share the roads with moose

Officials in New Hampshire, where 154 moose were killed on roadways in 2011, offer these precautions for avoiding close encounters with these massive animals.

  1. Be alert throughout the day, but especially at dusk and dawn.
  2. Scan the sides of roads for animals.
  3. Use high beams whenever possible.
  4. Don't expect a moose to stop for you. You may need to stop your car and wait for a moose to cross the road.

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