3 Fatalities Following SUV Collision With a Bear on I-70

3 Fatalities Following SUV

The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) reported that an SUV hit a bear while traveling on I-70 near Rifle, Colorado that killed three people. After striking the bear, the SUV spun into the opposing lanes of the highway. There were seven people in the vehicle, four of which were taken to hospitals. The bear was killed in the collision and investigators do not suspect alcohol or speed contributed to the accident. This incident is a reminder of the danger along the roadways in Colorado’s more rural areas, where animals are more likely crossing highways. Colorado’s Parks & Wildlife agency wants drivers to be aware of potential animal collisions, particularly with dusk settling in earlier in the coming fall. Cody Wigner, a manager in the agency, says that dusk and dawn are the most dangerous times of day, with increasingly poor visibility and commuters traveling from work. This time of year is also the mating season for deer, which leads them to be more mobile. Auto accidents involved with animals are currently the third most common cause of accidents, trailing only speeding and distracted driving.

Migration Underway

Wildlife is certainly on the move this time of year across the state. Many animals begin their journey to locations where they spend the winter, significantly increasing the likelihood of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs). The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is part of a group of organizations that promotes awareness through the “Wildlife on the Move” campaign. They encourage drivers to drive with caution and slow down, especially when it is dark. CDOT has reported an annual average of roughly 3,300 such collisions over the past 10-year period. This average does not include the many unreported collisions that occur. A recent CDOT roadkill report indicates the following numbers of animals killed on roads over the last few years:

  • 2013: 339
  • 2014: 239
  • 2015: 338
  • 2016: 425

Significant Financial Burden

According to Carole Walker of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, auto insurance companies annually pay approximately $1.1 billion in WVC claims, with November being the largest month for these collisions. The average vehicle involved in a WVC incurs slightly over $3,000 in damage, a small increase over the prior year. The state is home to many elk and deer that venture into more urban areas. James Wolfinbarger, with the CSP, says it is critical to concentrate on the road ahead and if involved in a collision, make an effort to keep control of the vehicle. Also, if you spot one deer, it is likely that others are close by.

Although WVCs can occur throughout the state, eight especially dangerous stretches have been identified and are “high-risk” including:

  • I-70 near Floyd Hill and Mt. Vernon Canyon
  • Interstate 25 from Castle Rock to Larkspur
  • US 285 near Morrison
  • Highway 160 from Durango in both directions
  • Highway 550 Durango to Montrose
  • Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to Aspen
  • Highway 26 near Boulder
  • Highway 93 from Golden to Boulder

2016 Road Kills by Animal

  • Bear: 4
  • Bighorn: 2
  • Cow: 2
  • Coyote: 4
  • Deer: 301
  • Dog: 3
  • Elk: 68
  • Fox: 2
  • Raccoon: 8
  • Other with one: beaver, bobcat, moose, skunk

Colorado Fencing Project

CDOT is implementing fencing to prevent animal access along I-70. A 40-mile stretch of fencing will run from Dotsero to Eagle Vail. There may be some temporarily closed lanes during the process. Installation will continue throughout 2018 at a cost of approximately $2.5 million. This is an alternative approach from the establishment of “wildlife zones,” which reports showed did not significantly reduce the number of incidents. These zones were outfitted with signs, reduced speed limits and a higher presence of law enforcement for issuing penalties. Mike McVaugh, a traffic engineer, explained that traveling at a slower pace allows a driver to better scan the roadside for animals and may allow a driver a few extra seconds of reaction time to avoid a collision. The wildlife zone projects delivered disappointing results and were further complicated by dramatic shifts in the populations of certain animals across the state. These zones were heavily patrolled, as citations rose by approximately 40%. Overall, be careful and pay attention.

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