Saturday, November 1, 2008

Additional Steps Needed to Avoid Deer Collisions on the Road

Most drivers know the basic strategies to avoid or at least reduce the chances of a collision – slow down; leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle ahead of you; look for eye shine at the edges of the road ahead; where there is one animal, expect others. But The Humane Society of the United States would like to remind drivers that there are additional steps that can be taken to make our roads safer for people and all wild animals.

"This country lags behind many nations in our regard for the need to protect both wildlife and drivers from collisions on the road," said Susan Hagood, wildlife issues specialist at The HSUS. "There are many relatively simple, cost-effective countermeasures to this serious issue."

As reliably as the turning of the leaves, each fall also is accompanied by public warnings about the dangers of driving in deer country, for fall combines both deer mating and hunting seasons, and deer are on the move more now than at any other time of year. There are also more vehicles on the road after dark as daylight savings time ends, with many driven at speeds at or above the speed limit.

The most obvious solution is fencing – but fencing alone confines wild animals in habitat patches that may not meet all of their needs, and can lead to problems like inbreeding. Fences are effective in protecting both highway users and wildlife only if they function to guide animals to overpasses, underpasses, or other structures that provide them safe passage over or under the road. Such fencing/passage systems can be expensive, but their cost is minor when compared to the total cost of highway construction or improvement projects.

Fencing/passage systems are a means of both saving invaluable human lives and contributing to health of wildlife populations, including the recovery of endangered species, such as the Florida panther and California's desert tortoise. Florida, Arizona, Washington State and Montana are leading the effort in the U.S. to reduce wildlife collisions with fencing/passage systems. Though their use in this country is just beginning, other collision avoidance systems rely on sophisticated infrared technologies that detect the presence of a large animal in the roadside and illuminate warning signs.

We must increasingly employ these and other strategies to reduce wildlife/vehicle collisions, but there will never be enough wildlife passages and collision avoidance systems to replace drivers who are aware of wildlife and willing to modify their driving in the interest of their own safety and that of wild animals. Therefore, it will always be important, in the fall and throughout the year, to drive with wildlife in mind.

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