To Swerve or Not to Swerve: The Dangers of Wildlife on the Road

 

With several National Parks, breathtaking mountain views, lush tree-lined-canyons, and a lot of open space, driving through Utah is a feast for the eyes of every driver who appreciates nature.  It doesn’t take much time for you to drive far enough to get above the inversion, enjoy some scenic routes, and enjoy a lot of the beautiful views that Utah has to offer.  However, while most drivers enjoy observing nature as they drive, few people want to share the road with wildlife.

According to a KSL report, one early winter morning around 7 a.m., the driver of a black Pontiac was making his usual trip down through Parley’s canyon on I-80 near Mountain Dell reservoir when, suddenly, two cars in front of him spun out of control. Not seeing what caused the drivers’ confusion, he tried to drive between the two vehicles and realized too late that the cause was a full grown moose that was walking down the middle of the lane. The driver struck the moose head on.

The moose crushed the Pontiac’s windshield, sending glass flying at the driver.  As the driver tried to recover, he was rear-ended by another car.  Though no one was killed, one of the drivers was sent to the hospital with neck injuries and others suffered from minor cuts and bruises.

While some people argue that the first driver should have just hit the moose and saved the other four cars from crashing, and others say that he was right to swerve, the answer to what should have been done is not as simple as it seems.

Statistics to Consider Before You Swerve or Not

DMV.org recently published an article on the dangers of Wildlife on the road where it asked readers to consider the following statistics:

  • A collision with some form of wildlife occurs, on average, every 39 minutes.
  • One out of every 17 car collisions involves wandering wildlife.
  • 89% of all wildlife collisions occur in two-lane roads.
  • 84% of all wildlife collisions occur in good weather on dry roads.
  • The average repair cost of a car-deer collision is $2800.
  • Approximately 200 motorists die in the United States each year from car-wildlife collisions

Those statistics are hard to ignore. Utah has its share of driving hazards with the winter weather, steep canyons, and endless construction, but now you have to watch out on sunny days and during dry weather too.

So How Can You Avoid Hitting a Moose?

 

Here are some precautions provided by the previously mentioned DMV website that will assist you as you drive yourself away from those statistics and even further away from a close-up with some of Utah’s abundant wildlife:

  1. Slow down when passing yellow animal-crossing signs.  These warnings are posted not because road crews just happened to have a surplus of signs, but because there is heavy animal traffic in the area.
  2. Wildlife is most active during dusk, dawn, and night.  Deer are most frequently hit during dusk and dawn, bears and moose at night.
  3. Headlights have an illumination range of 200-250 feet.  To allow for sufficient brake time, reduce your speed to 45 mph at night–or even down to 20 mph when roads are icy.
  4. Pay attention to shoulders.  Even though the wildlife may be off to the side as your car approaches, animals may attempt to flee by inexplicably leaping onto the road. (Jackrabbits are particularly suicidal.) Slow as you approach, and don’t hesitate to hit the horn.
  5. Look for reflecting eyes.
  6. Slow down if you spy a moose.  Their fight/flight response to a threat is different than you might think. Instead of leaping into forested cover, moose will gallop down the road ahead of you for long distances before veering into the woods.
  7. Keep in mind that deer, elk, and antelope wander in groups.  If you see one crossing, slow to a crawl.  More are bound to follow.
  8. If you drive in a state or province that employs road salt, keep in mind that wildlife considers it a condiment.  Roads may be drier but wildlife more numerous.
  9. Deer whistles are merely peace-of-mind placebos.  Research remains inconclusive as to the advantages of these car-mounted devices.

Are You Saying That I Should Swerve?

Well, think of it this way; the oncoming semi-truck or school bus will cause a lot more damage to you, your vehicle, and others than an oblivious mule deer or a daring raccoon that found itself in your headlights. So when it comes to anything that is the size of a deer or smaller, DMV experts suggest that the best thing to do is to not swerve, hit your brakes, jam on your horn, and duck low below the dashboard.  Best case scenario, the bright lights and blaring horn will scare the animal off of the road.  Worst case, and this is not to sound insensitive to the animal, but an animal is a lot softer than an oncoming car.

But there is an exception to this no swerve advice…Bull Moose

Moose are huge. An adult moose can weigh in at as much as 1,600 pounds.  Therefore, according to the DMV, hitting a moose head on is equivalent to hitting a compact car on stilts.  This kind of impact can cause serious and sometimes fatal injuries to front seat occupants.  So if the situation allows, and there is a moose in between you and your destination, swerving is a viable defensive option.

 What to Do if You Do Hit an Animal on the Road

No matter how many precautions you take or how well you swerve, there is always a chance that you could still end up hitting an animal.  Animals aren’t like light posts or orange cones: they have minds of their own and those minds can lead them right into the front of your car. And while there is little you can do once the animal has made up its mind, There is a precaution that everyone should take… MAINTAIN INSURANCE that will protect you from the costs of wildlife collisions.

With average vehicle damages costing around $2,800, injuries to drivers and passengers drives that number up to around $10,000. There is no case where the at-fault-deer’s insurance company can compensate you.  If you have a wildlife collision and you don’t have the proper car insurance, then you could be on your own.

However, if you do have insurance, and the damage is sufficient to exceed your deductible, then filing a claim may be the best option.

How Can We Help You?

More often than not, the damage caused by these accidents is not isolated to the car you are driving.  The personal injuries caused by such collisions can result in costs that are much greater than the cost of fixing your car, and I have learned from experience that the insurance companies are rarely ready and willing to help you when there is no one else to blame.  If you are involved in a wildlife collision and you are wondering if you need an attorney to help you deal with the insurance company and receive the money you deserve, please refer back to our main site and see if our firm is right for you.

Why Is All of This Important Right Now?

Usually, the cold of winter is when we expect bears to be hibernating while deer and moose stay secluded in their mountain homes.  Contrary to this assumption, food in the wildlife’s usual habitat grows scarce during the winter and hunger drives animals closer to the back yards and streets of your neighborhood.  And while a wandering mule deer may be fun to video from your back window, you should always be looking for the dangers they present to you while driving.

Not only does the arrival of snow cause problems, but the melting snow and changing weather will also pose a greater risk for wildlife collisions.  After surveying the scene of the five-car crash on I-80 that was caused by a wandering moose, authorities told KSL reporters, “[Late winter/Early spring] is the time of year when [animals] will start moving back from their summer range.  As the snow recedes, the animals will start to follow the green grass, green vegetation, and browse up to the mountain.”

Officers on the scene also added that fences and yellow warning signs have been placed on the sides of many major highways, including I-80, as a way to prevent wildlife from idly wondering into traffic.  But, as seen in the crash that day, fences and yellow signs are not enough to discourage every living thing that encounters them.

The Biggest Thing to Remember

Taking all of the necessary precautions and driving defensively will help, but there are times when the weather or nighttime conditions will not allow you adequate time to react to an oncoming deer.  Therefore, the best thing you can do is to pay attention to signs and slow down when you are in areas where you could unexpectedly come across a 1600 pound moose that could crush the front of your car, or a small raccoon that could cause damage underneath your car.  In either case, driving slower is in your best interest, and it is in the best interest of the animal who may end up in your headlights.

 

Photo ‘Big Moose” copy right to Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis

For more information and statistics on wildlife collisions see The Defenders of Wildlife

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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