New law may reduce costly auto- animal collisions on state roads
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Transportation officials and conservation groups hope that when Gov. Bill Ritter signs a wildlife crossing bill this Wednesday in Vail, it will mark an important step toward reducing the costly carnage on state highways.
Although wildlife-crossing warning signs are already a familiar sight along highways, the new law will enable the Department of Transportation to reduce speed limits and increase fines for speeding in those areas.
I-70 and I-25 were excluded from the final version of the bill, but there are many other zones where the new law should help reduce the number of collisions, saving human and animal lives — and money, by reducing the amount of time state employees spend on removing animal carcasses and dealing with wrecks.
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.
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.
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.
As biologists have learned more about wildlife movement corridors, there’s also more data on where animals cross roads and highways. That information will improve this summer, as teams of citizen scientists work near highways to document wildlife movements by looking for tracks and installing motion-activated cameras, said Bethany Gravell, director of the Center for Native Ecosystems.
Another part of the effort is a new web site that allows motorists to report animal movements along the I-70 corridor. The 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.
“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,” Paige Bonaker, a biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems, said in a previous interview.
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. • At Night: • 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.