Between 2005-2009, 1,017 people were killed in collisions between animals and motor vehicles. Here's a look at deaths by state:
Barbara Barnick died at the scene. Three passengers in her Chrysler minivan and the driver of the other vehicle survived; Barnick and the others were all wearing seat belts, police said.
The high school senior's death in westernMichigan, near Grand Rapids, serves as a tragic reminder that November is the deadliest month for collisions between motor vehicles and deer.
Insurance claims for crashes involving animals are nearly three times as high in November as in other months, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
"The chance of a vehicle encountering a deer and striking it goes way up in November during deer mating season," says Kim Hazelbaker, HLDI senior vice president. "They are crossing the road when they shouldn't be, oblivious to the traffic around them."
Many crash deaths are preventable
Over the five-year period 2005-09, 1,017 people died in vehicle-animal collisions, according to the IIHS. Many vehicle-animal collision deaths are preventable: In a 2004 study, IIHS found that 60% of people who died in such crashes in automobiles were not wearing seat belts; 65% of those killed on motorcycles were not wearing helmets.
About three-fourths of vehicle-animal fatalities involve deer, according to the IIHS.
"One of the problems is we as a society have taken over where the deer used to be," Hazelbaker says.
All across the USA, suburban areas that used to be deer habitats have been developed into subdivisions, but the deer are still there, says Ken Rosen, senior vice president and chief claims officer for San Antonio-based USAA, the nation's eighth-largest auto insurer. "We're seeing more deer walking around the neighborhood than I've ever seen in the past." He says deer populations have grown because of a lack of natural predators.
Fatal vehicle-animal crashes also have involved cattle, horses, dogs and at least one bear, IIHS says. "Particularly when you get out West, you see elk and all kinds of things that it wouldn't occur to you would be out on a roadway," Hazelbaker says.
Vehicle-animal collisions increased by 7% from 2008 to 2009, according to a recent analysis by USAA. The average claim in those crashes: $2,886. "Some safety features such as air bags and anti-lock brakes work well, but if you hit a deer at a high rate of speed, it becomes a projectile," Rosen says.
That's what happened in Lowell, Mich., police say.
Barnick was driving west on Fulton Street when a car approaching in the eastbound lane struck the deer and flung it across the road into her windshield. "There's not much she could have done," Michigan State Police Trooper Dale Cook told TheGrand Rapids Press newspaper. "If a car in front of you hits a deer, what can you do? It's just like a NASCAR pileup — you just don't have a chance sometimes."
In Michigan, 'you've got to make sure you're ultra-alert'
Michigan has one of the nation's highest frequencies of vehicle-deer collisions, according to USAA's analysis. Kent County, where Barnick was killed, has about 2,200 such collisions a year, Michigan State Police Lt. Chris McIntire says. Another driver was killed recently on U.S. 131 north of Grand Rapids after hitting a dead deer that another motorist had killed and left in the highway, McIntire says.
"We're an area where you have a very, very large metro area, but within five minutes, you're in a very rural countryside," he says. "Many of our roads are through heavily wooded areas where the trees and woods come right up to the road. When you're driving in Michigan, you've got to make sure you're ultra-alert to what's going on around you and watch the tree line for deer."
Barnick was a senior at Saranac Community Schools who had played volleyball and softball and was expected to play softball again in the spring, Superintendent Jeanette Adams says. "She was a nice girl," Adams says. "A little bit on the quiet side, but with friends both here and in (nearby) Ionia."
Adams says the tragedy stunned her district, which has 1,150 students, including 360 at the high school. "Everybody knows everybody," she says. "They've been going to school for a long time together." She says grief counselors were available at the school, and students were given the opportunity to delay exams scheduled last week.
"We lost a senior last spring," Adams says. "For us to lose a senior from this class as well, seven months later. ... It was just such a freak accident."