Preventing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions: These 12 Tips Could Save Your Life
Researchers estimate that 1 million vertebrates, including livestock and pets, are hit by vehicles on american roads every day; that equals a rate of one every 11.5 seconds (Murphy 2005).
Collisions with wildlife are not only treacherous for the animal; deer, and other large animals, can do considerable damage to vehicles and passengers. An average of 26,647 humans are injured every year in Animal Vehicle Collisions (AVCs) in the United States (average for 2001–2002) and of those injuries 200 result in human fatality (FHWA 2008). The average medical costs from hitting a deer is $2,702 and the vehicle repairs cost an average of $1,840, not to mention the cost of towing and law enforcement assistance (FWHA 2008). While these are the average, the cost can be significantly higher, especially if a larger animal, such as a moose, elk, or even a horse, is hit. Vehicular damage occurs more than 90% of the time when a deer is hit and almost 100% of the time there is substantial damage when there is a collision with a larger animal, which increases the average cost to $3-4,000 in vehicle repair (FWHA 8). Collisions may cost drivers even more if injury or travel delays result in missed work. Drivers are not the only people who suffer from an accident with wildlife though, public agencies face costs associated with investigating and controlling traffic after a WVC, carcass removal, and may lose the monetary value of the animal, such as hunting fees (FWHA 9). It is estimated that the cost of WVCs to society annually is $8,388,000,000 (FWHA 9).
Almost everyone has hit an animal with their vehicle or been a passenger in a vehicle that has. Many of us have even lost a pet or even livestock to a collision with a car. Whether it's the tragic loss of a 4 legged family member or a valuable animal, roadkill can be gut wrenching and even mean the difference between making ends meet this month. So, here's 12 tips to prevent hitting animals (these could save you a lot of money, or even your life):
- Scan roadsides for eyeshine at night.
Many animals, and deer in particular, have a structure in the back of their eye called a tapedum lucidum. This small feature plays an important role for the animal, it reflects any light that enters the eye and reflects it back. This way, the animal can see twice as much light as a human, giving it much better night vision. The tapedum lucidum is the reason why many animal's eyes will glow if you shine a light at them at night. It is also the cause of the famous "deer in the headlights" effect. If you've ever looked into headlights before, you know its blinding, now imagine if it was twice as bright and you will understand why a deer could be overwhelmed. While driving at night, scan the roadsides for two glowing eyes that will alert you to the presence of an animal. Seeing an animal even a moment before a collision could mean the difference between life and death for you and the creature.
- If you see one animal, you may see more.Many animals, including many large mammals, such as deer and elk, travel together. If you see one deer cross the road far in front of you, slow down, more may cross as you get closer.
- Do not swerve to miss an animal, it will only confuse it more and could send you into the ditch or oncoming traffic. Slow down when you see an animal by the road. If an animal is in front of your vehicle, slow down as much as possible. If there is no way to avoid hitting a large animal, release the brake a moment before the collision so the nose of your vehicle is higher and the animal is less likely to go through the windshield and cause human injuries.
- Use your high beams whenever possible.
Using your high beams will allow you to keep an eye out for eyeshine and animals by the side of the road.
- Follow the speed limit.
This one sort of goes without saying. The slower you are going the safer you and the wildlife is. You will have more time to react if an animal crossing in front of your vehicle.
- Know where animals cross, be extra cautious when you see animal crossing signs, when a road is in a habitat transition zone, or when you are near a wetland. The highway department does not just put up wildlife crossing signs for fun, if you see one it means that an animal has been hit there before and it has caused serious damage to vehicles and people, often on more than one occasion. Also be cautious in areas where there is a transition between one habitat and another, especially if they are on opposite sides of the road. Wildlife often travels between these areas to find different resources. One example would be if the right side of the road had a hemlock forest and the left side of the road was a field. Deer may cross the road to go feed in the field but cross back to bed down in the shelter of the woods. Many animals also rely on wetlands and are often hit on roads near them. This applies to reptiles and amphibians especially, such as turtles, snakes, and salamanders, that cannot move quickly or may use the heat of the road to bask. If you live in an area where moose are present, be very cautious around wetlands! Moose pose extreme danger to motorists.
- Be cautious at dawn and dusk, avoid driving in low visibility as much as possible. Wildlife moves around the most during dawn and dusk. These times are when the majority of wildlife-vehicle collisions occur and driving then should be avoided as much as possible. If the weather is rainy or foggy, you are less likely to hit an animal because they tend to hunker down during bad weather but if the visibility is low for some other reason, such as being in a hilly area, be alert.
- Know what time of year animals move around in your area. In most areas with four seasons, this occurs in spring and fall.
- Scan roadsides for animals at all times, do not get distracted by electronic devices, the radio, etc.
- Move animals off of the road as far as possible (when it is safe to pull over). If it is a living animal, stop your car and usher it off of the road to prevent other motorists from hitting it. If you have a passenger in the vehicle, ask them to direct traffic for you. This particularly applies to reptiles and amphibians. Turtles and salamanders can be gently and cautiously picked and moved in the direction they are going (do not pick up snapping turtles or poisonous snakes!!!) If the animal is already dead, it is important to still move it away from the road in order to prevent scavengers from getting hit. If you are concerned about touching the animal you can use gloves, or if you do not have gloves grab the animal by its feet (only pick an animal up by its feet if it is dead). Wash your hands after handling it.
- Alert the authorities if you see an animal that has been hit but is still alive. Not only is it inhumane to let an animal suffer, it could be hit again if it is still near the road.
- DO NOT assume that an animal will move out of the way. Most animals do not understand the flow of traffic, if you are moving toward them in your vehicle it is likely that they are panicked and confused. ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE until it has moved away. Vehicles move much faster and are much larger than any natural predator and animals are not evolved to deal with this. For example, deer's eyes do not move like ours do. In order to see something differently they must move their head. To detect a predator they look for side to side motion. If your car is merely moving straight towards them, it may not register that it is in motion. To the deer, it may seem as though your vehicle is just getting bigger and bigger instead of coming closer. Birds are another prime example of this. Birds have a set distance at which they fly away from a predator, BUT cars move much faster than most predators. Whether a vehicle is moving 10 mph or 80 mph, the bird will still fly away when the vehicle is the same distance away. If that distance is only 10 ft away, the bird will get hit if the car is moving 80 mph but may not if it is only going 10 mph.
Murphy, Eliza. "Caught in the Headlights." High Country News. N.p., 7 Feb. 2005. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Clevenger, Tony, Brian L. Cypher, Adam Ford, Marcel Huijser, Bruce F. Leeson, Bethanie Walder, and Chuck Walters. "Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction Study Report to Congress." US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (2008): n. pag. Aug. 2008. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
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