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Front Page » December 31, 2002 » Local News » Roads, deer collide in ongoing conflict
Published 4,284 days ago

Roads, deer collide in ongoing conflict


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


A vehicle driver stops to allow several deer to cross a roadway in the western part of Carbon County. Often, deer travel in small groups as well as larger herds. However, not all of the deer are visible at one time because of the way the animals are spaced out or the wildlife are running as members of a herd. When motorists spot one deer crossing a road, they can almost be assured that other animals are nearby or directly behind the one that is visible.

Kiki Rodriguez of Helper was driving a red sports car one evening about a week ago on U.S. Highway 6, listening to music on one of the resident's normal trips toward Price.

The sun had barely gone down prior when Rodriguez was leaving Helper and she was traveling in the twilight of the evening.

As Rodriguez approached the small rise that denotes the turn off to the right for Consumers Wash, the motorist reportedly noticed a deer flash into her side vision.

Rodriguez swerved her vehicle into the oncoming lanes of traffic headed toward Price Canyon to avoid the deer and almost collided with a truck.

"I just reacted and swerved," explained the motorist shortly after her encounter with the wild brown animal. "If things had happened a second later and I had done the same thing, I would have hit that truck."

As she swerved back into her lane of travel, the motorist looked in the rear view mirror and saw the pickup truck following close behind her stop quickly.

The pickup apparently collided with the animal. Rodriguez assumed the truck hit the deer, because she could only see one headlight where before there were two.

Rodriguez's close encounter with the deer is a familiar one to Carbon County residents.

In fact, the local motorist's story is reminiscent of similar incidents related at locations across the country.

Deer populations have always presented a hazard to vehicles, but in many places, increased traffic and higher speeds seem to be getting the better of herds nowadays.

Despite efforts by many wildlife agencies, the federal government and even municipalities, it seems that more deer are showing up dead along the nation's highways than ever before.

No one likes the situation. Deer that are hit seldom survive the impact, thereby lowering the wildlife population for hunting.

The property damage that is caused by encounters with wildlife is costly and insurance companies are constantly researching ways to cut down their losses.

The deer running across highways often cause vehicles to collide with each other, but more often create hundreds and thousands of dollars of damage on each vehicle that actually runs into them.

And road departments hate the mess.

Animal rights activists have actually started a petition on the Internet to have the federal government mandate whistles that drive deer away installed in all new vehicles.

Statistics show the story. In 1978, the average cost of a deer-vehicle collision in most states was estimated at about $648 per incident.

Currently, the estimate is around $2,000 per mishap according to State Farm Insurance figures.

In terms of animals, it is estimated between 500-600,000 deer are killed in the U.S. each year by collisions with vehicles.

But worse than the suffering of the animals and all the property damage claims that must be paid out is the human tragedy.

While few realize it, hitting a deer can cause major injuries to drivers, even death.

Each year the collisions result in almost 30,000 injuries and over 200 deaths in the United States.

The solution seems to be elusive.

Just like any accident, collisions with deer, elk or moose probably will never be completely eliminated, but many steps have been taken to cut down the carnage.

Responsible agencies use all kinds of devices and ideas control the problem.

In the past two years, the state department of transportation along with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been working to control the wildlife problem on the stretch of road on which Rodriguez's car was traveling.

First came waterers and guzzlers that the DWR installed west of the highway to keep deer from running across the road to get to the Price River for water.

Next came high fences to keep deer off the road with openings in them to allow any deer that could wander on from the ends of the project or from the east side to get back off the road.

The wildlife barriers have been fairly successful, but nothing is foolproof.

At some point, the high fences and other wildlife barrier devices must end, leaving a place where individual deer or herds can enter a roadway.

One of the worst spots for deer killings in the United States in the last few years is Highway 30 that runs between Sage Creek Junction north of Randolph and Kemmerer, Wyo.

Wildlife officials in that area estimate that between 400-500 deer a year are killed on that section of the road a year.

Wyoming officials have built at least one underpass so deer can go under the road and they are funneled there with deer fences.

Remote cameras located on the underpass have shown that deer are at first reluctant to use the concrete structure, but after a while they use it regularly, cutting down deaths of animals in the immediate area and damage to vehicles considerably.

Across the nation many more types of measures have been taken to cut down the collisions.

Besides the measures mentioned, cross walks, reflectors, deer mirrors, right of way plant-ings that use intercept feeding theories, chemical repellents and deer herd reduction have been tried.

But the measures are all designed to keep the deer off the highways, a task that is sometimes an impossible objective to accomplish.

The most effective key to successful safety when it comes to vehicle and deer confrontations involves training drivers to deal with the situations.

Posting deer advisory signs along the roadways is one of the most common methods of letting drivers know about a wildlife problem in an immediate area. But whether unconsciously or consciously, drivers tend to ignore the warnings.

Part of the general response is due to the fact that there are so many of the cautionary signs.

But other types of things are being done to handle the problem from the drivers side of the equation, too.

Some states have not only posted signs but have started public awareness campaigns designed to remind drivers of possible ramifications of a collision with a large animal.

Some states have lowered the speed limits in deer crossing areas and are rigidly enforcing the new ordinances.

But the proliferation of traffic signage on highways sometimes works to numb drivers to problems as much as warn the motorists.

Getting people to concentrate on the problem and it's ramifications is a large problem for highway officials.

Motorists certainly need to be warned, but vehicle drivers also need to know how to prepare for an incident and what to do should they face such a situation.

Federal and state highway safety officials have developed several basic rules that can help Carbon County drivers who face wildlife challenges on the road. The recommendations include the following:

•A deer standing in a field may suddenly jump onto a road.

Drivers should anticipate the potential for the animal's action by slowing down the vehicle and proceeding with caution when they see a deer is present.

•If a deer crosses the road, a driver should slow down and scan for more deer rather than forging ahead thinking the problem has passed.

Deer travel in groups and other animals approaching the roadway may be out of the view of motorists or passengers.

•Slow down and brake to avoid hitting a deer, but do not swerve.

Allowing a car or pickup to swerve can cause loss of control of the vehicle which can lead to a collision with another vehicle or running off the road possibly hitting a tree or another object.

Statistics confirm that injuries to drivers and passengers increase when a vehicle swerves to avoid colliding with wildlife.

•Be especially aware during the early morning and afternoon hours. Deer tend to be more active during these times periods year round.

Deer are moving between evening feeding sites and daytime bedding areas.

•Deer crossing signs don't mean possible danger ahead, but more than likely probably danger is ahead.

Often, vehicles will pass herds of deer on the side of the roads and the drivers will not even notice the animals.

Motorists and passengers especially have the tendency to fail to notice wildlife herds when traveling along the roads and highways during the late afternoon or nighttime hours.

•Motorists should remain on constant alert in posted deer warning zones.

At all times, drivers as well as passengers should look beyond the boundaries of the road and highwy for wildlife.


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