House Bill 1238 would identify wildlife crossing areas, reduce speed limits and up fines; new web site launched to educate drivers and get more information about crossing areas
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Traffic on I-70 may be an inconvenience for powder-loving skiers, but it’s a matter of life and death for the many animals that depend on habitat on either side of the highway for survival. Every year, thousands of animals are killed by cars, and the consequences for the drivers and passengers can be equally serious.
Between 1995 and 2005 there were 30,245 animal-vehicle collisions on Colorado’s roadways, according to the most recent statistics available from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Twenty nine of the crashes resulted in fatalities, 2,505 resulted in injuries and 27,7111 resulted in property damage.
Most of the collisions (79 percent) are with deer and elk (13 percent). The chances of hitting an animal during the next year are estimated at one in 163. According to the Center for Native Ecosystems, the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions more than doubled between 1998 to 2004.
Several groups, including CDOT, are working to reduce the number of collisions, and March 18, the Colorado Legislature can take an important step in this direction by voting for House Bill 1238 in a committee hearing.
The bill would identify wildlife crossing zones, reduce the speed limit in those areas and increase fines for speeders. Slowing traffic in areas where animals are known to cross highways gives drivers more time to react.
The full text of the bill is posted in a Scribd.com window at the end of this article.
The average cost per collision (based on insurance claims) is $2,800. A national insurance group estimates that the total cost nationally for collisions with deer is about $1.1 billion in vehicle damage.
Highway managers and wildlife advocates are also trying to learn more about where animals cross highways. The coalition of groups launched a new web site last November that enables motorists to report wildlife specifically along I-70 between Golden and Glenwood Springs.
“We know a lot about where animals are getting killed in Collisions, but we don’t know as much about where they might be crossing successfully,” said Paige Bonaker, a biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems.
Bonaker said the new web site aims to educate drivers about the risk of wildlife on the highway and to gather public input to help identify where wildlife frequently tries to cross the roadway.
Ultimately, wildlife biologists and the Colorado Department of Transportation will review wildlife sightings reported on the website to help design and locate wildlife crossing structures that will reduce animal-vehicle collisions.
In Colorado, a study by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, identified the following locations as being extremely hazardous for drivers and wildlife:
• I-70 at Floyd Hill/Mt. Vernon Canyon
• US 285 at Morrison
• HWY 160, Durango to Pagosa Springs and Durango to Mancos
• HWY 550, North of Durango and Montrose to Ouray
• I-25 Castle Rock to Larkspur
• HWY 82 Glenwood Springs to Marble
• HWY 36 Boulder to Lyons
• I-70 Eagle
Driver Safety Tips:
• Stay Alert. Avoid driving with other distractions.
• Slow Down to increase your reaction time.
• Scan Ahead and watch for movement along roadsides.
• Look for more animals after you see one animal – they often travel in groups.
• Brake. Don’t Swerve.
• Be ready for animals to change direction.
• Don’t litter – it attracts animals.
• Obey traffic signs, including wildlife warning and speed limit signs.
• Don’t drink and drive.
• Watch for shining eyes.
• Use high beams to improve visibility when there’s no oncoming traffic.
• Slow down on blind curves.
• Pass with care.
If You hit an Animal
* If you cannot stop in time, unfortunate as it may be, it is usually safer to hit the animal than to swerve. Swerving may land you in the path of another car or off the road in a ditch.
* Pull over and call the State Patrol (dial *CSP from your cell phone in Colorado) or local law enforcement to report the accident. If the animal is still on the roadway, they can safely remove it.
* If the animal is still alive, it may be dangerous for you to leave your vehicle.
* If you vehicle is unsafe to operate or you are injured, stay in your car and wait for help.
* Call your insurance agent at your earliest opportunity. If you carry optional comprehensive coverage it will cover damage caused by a collision with an animal.