How to Avoid a Wildlife Collision

Every year wildlife collisions are the cause of hundreds of thousands of vehicle accidents along North American roads

Colliding with deer, elk, bear, and moose is potentially fatal for drivers and passengers and is likely to cause significant damage to your vehicle—and to the animals. To avoid a collision, whether driving a car, truck, or recreational vehicle, be alert and know what to do if you come head-to-head with one.

Deer crossing Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is important for motorists to have information about the factors that influence animal behavior. This will lead to an increased level of understanding about when, where, and why wildlife is most likely to be present near the road. Animals are active 24 hours of the day and all year round, but records kept by insurance and government agencies show that there are peak times when wildlife-vehicle collisions are more likely and drivers should be especially alert.

Drivers need to be alert and cautious because moose are on the move, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Moose are more likely to be crossing roadways at this time of year, especially after dark or early in the morning as they move from wintering areas to spring feeding locations.

Bison in Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More moose are hit by motorists in the spring than at any other time of the year. There is another peak of activity in September and October, the breeding season for moose. Moose are especially difficult to see at night because their fur is very dark, and they are so tall that their eyes are normally above most headlight beams, and therefore their eyes may not reflect the headlights.

Drivers need to be especially careful and people should enjoy watching moose from a safe distance. Moose can be unpredictable and dangerous if you get too close and they feel cornered or get irritated.

Elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most literature suggests that dusk and dawn are traditionally times of high wildlife-vehicle collisions. Light levels are low and animals are active at these times.

Based in British Columbia, the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (WCPP) reports that 35-45 percent of all collisions with wildlife in British Columbia and Alberta occur between 7:00 p.m. and midnight with Fridays accounting for 15.8 percent of all collisions.

Deer are involved in approximately 80 percent of wildlife-vehicle collisions. May and November have the highest rates of collisions involving deer.

Rocky Mountain Sheep in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moose are involved in approximately 7 percent of all wildlife-vehicle collisions. Due to the extremely large size of these animals, (a mature bull moose may weigh up to 1,200 pounds), there is a significant chance that a moose-vehicle collision will result in a human fatality.

Elk are involved in approximately 3 percent of wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them. Collisions occur most often in prime deer, elk, and moose habitats such as forested areas and waterways. Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. If you see a deer, elk, or moose crossing sign, be extra alert and slow down. These wild animals crossroads for a wide variety of reasons and at different times of the year. They cross the road randomly as well as at their regular crossings.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reduce speed. Speed is a major factor in collisions. Wildlife experts have recommended 55 mph as a suitable speed for wildlife zones in good weather conditions as it provides you with some reaction time to stop. Also, the faster the speed, the worse the collision!

Drive defensively. Actively watch for wildlife movement or shining eyes on and beside the road. Drivers should be cautious between dusk and dawn. Light levels are low and animals are active. Always be aware of the danger.

Deer in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observe your surroundings. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife. Look on the roadsides, the shoulders, down into ditches (they love the grass there), median strips, intersecting roads, on the road itself and try to spot any signs of movement, flashes of eyes, or body shapes. Be sure to scan both sides.

In most vehicle collisions, particularly fatal ones, you usually don’t see the animal before it slams into you. That’s why the best way to keep bear fur out of your grille is to slow down, stay alert, and continually scan the ditches for glowing eyes.

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But if all that fails and you’re finding your car hurtling directly towards Bambi, there is one last-second tip that could save your life.

Slam on the brakes until the moment just before impact, then release them. This lifts the nose of the car just enough so that you may deflect the animal away from the vehicle and prevent it from flying directly at you.

The deer isn’t going to be okay, but you will.

Worth Pondering…

The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.

―Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam