Drivers consistently face a large number of risks each time they get behind the wheel, from swerving vehicles to potholes.
However, fewer take into consideration risks due to striking wild animals--an issue that’s affected a surprising number of drivers in southwest Florida recently.
Though no more than 230 panthers live in Florida’s forests and swamps, according to one estimate vehicles have struck and killed 21 of these endangered big cats this year.
In addition to being a tragic setback to conservation efforts, each panther’s death also spells a potential financial hit for a Florida car owner, since many drivers will lack the necessary insurance that could help cover the repair bills to their car.
The Cost of Animal Accidents
While the likelihood of a U.S. driver hitting an animal in any given year is less than 1% the damage from such a strike is typically high for those incidents serious enough to prompt an insurance claim. The average cost of an animal-strike claim was $3,085 in 2013, according to a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute. That cost is much less than the typical claim for a collision with another vehicle--which can average more than $5,200, depending on your car model--but it is still prohibitively expensive for the majority of car owners.
Given the high potential cost of an animal collision, Florida’s drivers may be curious whether they actually have the insurance to protect themselves if such an accident were to occur.
While auto insurance is required in the state of Florida, drivers are only mandated to carry personal injury protection and property damage liability coverage, neither of which would assist in paying for repairs to your vehicle if you were to hit a panther or other animal. To cover those damages,you would need comprehensive coverage.
On the positive side, 84% of Florida drivers carry comprehensive coverage, according to research from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. However, that still leaves about 2 million Floridians who are operating a vehicle without protection against the damage from hitting an animal.
Perhaps comprehensive coverage is prohibitively expensive? Not really. The average premium for comprehensive coverage in Florida is just $106.83. That expenditure would not only ensure you’re covered should you run into a panther, alligator or any other animal, but would also add protection against a host of other perils, including theft of your vehicle. Particularly when you consider that the average cost for auto insurance, without comprehensive coverage, is already $1,098 in Florida, another hundred dollars or so seems a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind.
Greater Risk Nationwide
Despite a seeming surge in panther collisions in the state, drivers in Florida have a lower likelihood of facing an animal collision than those in most other states. Further, many of the states that are especially prone to animal collisions have a lower rate of drivers with comprehensive coverage than Florida.
West Virginia, for example, had the highest number of claims due to animal collisions according to the HLDI. In fact, during November, the peak month for animal collisions in the state, drivers there had about a 5% chance of striking an animal severely enough to warrant a claim--a truly whopping figure. However, just 73% of West Virginians who carry liability insurance also opt to purchase comprehensive coverage.
At least some of those--in Florida, West Virginia and elsewhere--who pass on buying comprehensive insurance undoubtedly do so with the incorrect assumption that their car insurance would cover the costs to repair their vehicle after an animal collision. But most states typically require only third-party coverage, meaning insurance that would pay for another party’s injuries and property damage if you were at-fault.
While comprehensive vehicle insurance isn’t a required form of protection, it’s critical for drivers to be aware of the limitations of state-mandated coverage so they can make an informed choice--especially if they face a specific risk, such as that of colliding with wildlife in rural areas.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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