Road Safety: Sharing our Roads with Canada’s Wildlife
The possibility of striking wildlife while driving is, understandably, cause for concern for many Canadians. Our expansive natural environment combined with the expansion of roads and communities into wildlife habitats can contribute to an increase in wildlife-vehicle collisions on our roadways.
When animals dart into traffic, most drivers instinctively swerve to avoid striking the animal. However, except for large wildlife, such as moose or elk, swerving is not the safest option for either the driver or the animal. Most wildlife-vehicle collisions involve deer, and other small wildlife, and swerving is not recommended because both swerving and sudden braking can increase the risk of collision for drivers and other road users.
The safest response when wildlife the size of deer or smaller mammals are on the road, is to slow down using controlled braking and steer towards the animal since there is a high likelihood that animals will dart out of danger before a collision can take place. However, should a collision be unavoidable, the smaller size of the animal will cause less damage than the alternative of potentially driving off the road or into oncoming traffic.
With larger wildlife, it’s safer to brake firmly and slowly steer around the animal once it’s clear for you to do so. Due to the weight and height of moose and elk, a collision is likely to cause significant damage to your vehicle and can cause serious injury and death to vehicle occupants.
While many types of wildlife are more active at dawn and dusk, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation’s Road Safety Monitor 2014: Driver Behaviour & Wildlife on the Road In Canada reported that nearly 50% of wildlife collisions or near collisions were reported during daylight hours. Drivers should be extra vigilant near wooded areas, wetlands, and particularly on long straight stretches and blind corners, at all times of the day. There is an increase in wildlife movement in the Fall due to migration, mating season as well as animals avoiding hunters. But a higher level of wildlife-vehicle interactions during summer months is often due to an increase in vacationers travelling in larger numbers and with greater frequency in rural and summer vacation areas.
In addition to general driver awareness, there are additional indicators that can provide drivers with some warning that there may be wildlife on, or about to cross, the roadway.
Deer, moose, bears, racoons and many other wildlife (as well as domestic cats and dogs) have tapetum lucidum, which causes their eyes to reflect light. Moose or elk may not appear to have this reflective effect, but, that is typically because the height of the animal places their eyes above headlight range.
Care is needed near wetlands as many smaller animals such as turtles are at risk or endangered species.
In foggy conditions, it’s best to watch for wildlife legs at the side of the road.
Watch for multiple animals as deer and elk typically travel in herds, as well as bear sow/cub travelling in family groups.
To learn more about wildlife-human interactions and how to avoid wildlife collisions, visit www.wildliferoadsharing.tirf.org