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Winter conditions, wildlife combine to create traffic hazards

Mule deer continue to become more and more friendly with humans along SR 123. While this makes for great photo opportunities it also causes major hazards for motorists as they make their nightly drives.
Wildlife create traffic hazards

Sun Advocate community editor

A recent report issued by the Utah Safety Council detailed why night driving can be so dangerous on Utah's winding roads. The council approximates that 90 percent of a drivers reaction time depends on vision, a perception that is drastically reduced much earlier in the day as winter carries on in Utah.

"Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision are all compromised after sundown," said the report. "Another factor is fatigue; drowsiness slows reaction times."

When deer and other wildlife are added to the equation the odds become heavily stacked against Utah drivers.

A study prepared by John Bissonette of the Utah's cooperative fish and wildlife research unit and Chris Kassar as part of his master's thesis, contends that collisions between large vertebrates and vehicles are an increasing concern along roadways not only because of ecological consequences, but a because of associated economic and social costs.

"We used large scale, long term data set from Utah to summarize and analyze these costs," pointed out the research document. "The overall cost for 13,020 collisions from 1996 to 2001 in Utah was $45,175,454."

While the costs associated with vehicle-deer collisions are shown to be excessive, it is the danger to a motorist's life that is the most threatening, according to safety officials.

To mitigate the risks, the safety council outlined the several tips to save one's automobile and life in the event of an incident involving wildlife at night: The state agency encouraged Carbon County motorists to:

•Prepare for night driving.

People should clean headlights, tail lights, signal lights and windows.

Travelers should also make sure all lights are working properly.

•Make certain headlights are properly aimed.

Mis-aimed headlights blind other drivers and reduce a drivers ability to see the road.

•Reduce speed and increase following distance.

Judging the speed and distance of other vehicles is more difficult at night than during the day, stressed the report.

"Most importantly, if you're too tired to drive any further, stop and rest awhile," advised the safety council.

While hitting a deer can happen anytime during the year, the most dangerous traffic accident season peaks in November.

The most dangerous time for wildlife-vehicle collisions continues to run through Utah's valleys for the remainder of the winter as mule deer come down from the hills for low lying vegetation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 275,000 motor vehicle accidents involve an animal yearly.

To avoid the collisions, the administration encourages local motorists to:

•Slow down and prepare to stop as soon as the deer become visible.

Stopping the vehicle is better than taking evasive action, according to the document.

•Pay close attention to other cars.

Motorists should slow down if erratic behavior is noticed in the vehicle in the lead.

•After spotting a deer, people should watch for more of the animals along the roadway because the wildife often travel in groups.

•Understand that deer are nocturnal.

Deer often travel at dawn and at dusk. Many vehicle deer crashes happen most often between 6 p.m. and midnight.

•Do not swerve into another lane to avoid striking a deer. It is better to strike an oncoming animal than to strike an oncoming vehicle or object.

•If a deer is hit, the driver of the vehicle involved in the mishap should immediately contactn nearest public safety dispatch center by dialing 911.

The driver and passengers should wait for assistance to arrive at the scene of the accident.

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