ALPENA - Area motorists know the risk of driving Northeast Michigan roads. In June or July, a doe might skip out onto the roadway followed by her shy and struggling fawns. In fall, a huge buck might suddenly appear as the perfect target for a hunter, but in the middle of a road instead of a field.
In a four-county area surrounding Alpena, officials said nearly 1,300 collisions occurred in 2012, although many go unreported. If each accident was multiplied by an average of $2,100 for repairs, the total comes to $2.7 million in liabilities for motorists.
And when insurance rates go up, there's more to pay.
Presque Isle County Sheriff Department Sgt. Darin Rabeau patrols a county with a high number of collisions.
"We went for a stretch when we didn't have any. Then on June 22, we had four," he said. "It all comes and goes. The normal, year round, is about two a day. Some days it's six or seven."
Last year, 363 accidents were reported in the county. Alcona County was higher with 375; Alpena logged 341 incidents, and Montmorency came in with 200.
"It might be the bugs are starting to get thick and the deer are getting pushed out," Rabeau said. "It's something we've been dealing with since I was a kid."
Even deputies patrolling the 700-square mile county are at risk.
"In our department we hit about four a year," said Rabeau, who struck a deer a few months ago.
"There are times it's just inevitable and you can't see that or stop that," he said. "You don't know what going on in their mind."
Some motorists are upset when they hit a deer, he said.
"It's killing a living animal. And then you have people who are angry, because there are too many of them," he said.
Others want the meat and drop in to their local sheriff's department for an appropriate permit.
The insurance side of the story can be confusing.
No one was could provide hard dollars and cents about a premium increase because there are so many variables, including credit ratings of the insured. The insurance industry doesn't consider that damage caused by a deer is an accident. Nor is it a collision. Instead, it is labeled a "comprehensive loss."
"If you don't have comprehensive coverage, you have to pay for the damage yourself," said Lori Conarton, communications director for the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
About 80 percent of people have comprehensive, because they have newer cars or loans requiring comprehensive, she said. But young people or those who drive old cars may have problems, she said.
In Michigan, the institute's research shows that the average accident causes about $2,100 in damages, she said, putting the annual cost at $130 million.
Steve Lappan, a risk manager and partner of Lappan Agency, Inc., clarified the industry's stance by putting himself in the driver's seat.
"If I have comprehensive, the insurance policy carrier will pay the loss up to the cash value of the vehicle, less any deductible," he said. "It's considered a comprehensive loss. So in order to start the claim process, I must have comprehensive coverage."
Do rates go up?
"If there is a persistency, then the companies are going to say you aren't doing anything to prevent loss and they may charge a higher premium," he said. "The deductible could go up. Discounts could be taken away."
Accidents also are tracked by the automobile's vehicle identification number through a program called CLUE, he said.
The report compiled through LexisNexis databases for subscribers provides a seven-year history of automobile insurance losses associated with an individual, according to the company's website. The data includes information on each loss, the date of loss, loss type, and amount paid.
"If there has been a severity or frequency of claims, the insurance company may say, 'we don't want Joe, because he's not paying attention," Lappan said. "Joe has a responsibility.'"
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.