Slow down and prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions

November 8, 2013

Hundreds of big game animals are killed in collisions with vehicles every year in Wyoming.

There are many "hot spots" for animal-vehicle collisions throughout central and northwest Wyoming. Some of these areas include Wyoming 28 between Lander and South Pass, Wyoming 131 (Sinks Canyon Road) south of Lander, U.S. 26 west of Riverton, U.S. 26/287 between Diversion Dam and Dubois, U.S. 20/Wyoming 789 between Wind River Canyon and Kirby, U.S. 16-20 between Basin and Greybull, Wyoming 120 near Thermopolis, U.S. 14A between Cody and Powell, and U.S. 14-16-20 between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

For example, since Oct. 1, 2012, a four-mile section U.S. 16/20 between Basin and Greybull has resulted in more than 60 wildlife-vehicle collisions involving deer. During the same time frame, more than 40 wildlife-vehicle collisions involving deer occurred between mileposts 2-6 directly east of Cody on U.S. 14A, more than 20 wildlife-vehicle collisions happened between mileposts 13-15 on U.S. 14A near Ralston, and more than 65 wildlife-vehicle collisions were recorded between mileposts 135-139 north of Thermopolis on U.S. 20.

"The number of deer and other wildlife that our maintenance crews retrieve from our highways in central and northwest Wyoming is very consistent in riparian zones, the bands of green that follow our river bottoms through the state," said Jim Berry, Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance foreman in Cody. "Our highways are built through these wintering areas, and wildlife-vehicle collisions are commonplace in these areas."

Most wildlife-vehicle collisions occur during the fall and winter, and many are preventable.

“There is typically a spike in the number of vehicle-related deer crashes during the fall and winter months,” said Stan Harter, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Lander region wildlife biologist. "As big game animals migrate out of the mountains to lower elevation winter ranges, the frequency of deer, antelope, elk and even moose increases on our highways. People who commute daily should be aware that wildlife-related crashes are always possible."

Harter said that although the frequency of wild animals crossing highways is more notable at dawn and dusk, "some wildlife are foraging and crossing the highway at all times of the day and night."

Driver behavior plays a role with wildlife-vehicle collisions. "Motorists should turn on their headlights during rain, fog or snow events, or until it's nearly dark to drive in the evening," Berry said. "Deer and other wildlife are especially active in the hour or two around dusk."

Harter agreed. "If these folks would turn on their headlights in these low visibility situations, or even all the time, they would not only be able to see wildlife near the roadways, but they would be seen by other drivers and wildlife," Harter said. "This would likely prevent other drivers from hitting them, or pulling out in the roadway in front of them at intersections or while passing."

Berry said that vehicle speeds are often the problem. “Clearly, the slower a vehicle is traveling, the easier it is to stop it and avoid road hazards. Allowing a few extra minutes for travel and slowing down during early morning, dusk and nighttime hours is recommended,” Berry said.

"Deer crossing” signs are often placed in areas where significant numbers of accidents have occurred and where deer are known to travel on a frequent basis. “Unfortunately, the signs we put up seem to work for a limited amount of time. Local travelers become habituated to the signs and seem to forget about them and the deer,” Berry said. “Please be alert when traveling through areas where yellow wildlife warning signs are in place along roads.”

Berry said WYDOT is using special signing, including portable dynamic message signs and other portable signs, to highlight "hot spot" wildlife crossings on some roadways throughout the state.

A few tips for driving in the fall and winter include:

-- If you observe wildlife on the road, stop as safely as possible without swerving. Swerving could cause the driver to lose control, leave the road or head into oncoming traffic.

-- Always wear your seat belt as it’s your best defense for crash-related injuries or death.

-- If one animal is crossing the roadway, there may be others;

-- Be observant; a sudden flash of brake lights ahead of you may signal that wildlife is present;

-- If you observe animals along the roadway at night, use your hazard lights to warn oncoming traffic;

-- Turn on your headlights during the day, and use the high beams of your headlights at night where possible and watch for the glowing eyes of animals;

-- If you should collide with or see a large dead animal in the road, please call the Wyoming Highway Patrol and report it;

-- And remember, deer don’t run backwards. If a collision is inevitable, aim at the rear of the animal with your vehicle. There's a chance the animal may move out of your path before the collision occurs.