Roadway crashes between vehicles and animals is a nationwide problem. State Farm Insurance data indicated that in 2014, Americans had 1.25 million collisions involving deer that led to an estimated $4 billion in damage, which doesn't include dozens of other species of animals. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that approximately 200 fatalities occur from such accidents annually. Here in Colorado, the problem is evident, as in 2016 there were nearly 6,900 animal collisions reported. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife agency says that 4,600 deer were killed in vehicle crashes in 2016. The southwestern and northwestern regions accounted for roughly 60% of the animal crashes within the state overall and the volume of these collisions has increased now for four consecutive years. Meanwhile, the development of “autonomous” vehicles or “smart cars” continues, which many experts think could greatly reduce the number of vehicle and animal roadway collisions.
Self-Driving Vehicle Technology
The driverless vehicles of tomorrow will be powered by innovative systems that will increase efficiency, as well as safety, by reducing the potential for acts of human error. How will these vehicles perform in preventing collisions with animals in particularly dangerous scenarios such as when traveling through dimly lit and high-speed rural roadways? Erik Coelingh, with the auto manufacturer Volvo, says that these future vehicles should have the ability to more quickly identify potential roadway hazards and act in a manner that is significantly faster than a human would. Fraser Shilling, Director of the California Roadkill Observation System, says that this challenge is partially because animals are highly unpredictable in their actions; therefore, even a perfect system could be subject to very abrupt actions by wildlife. The autonomous cars currently in development use devices including cameras, laser, and radar for key navigational actions, such as detection of approaching obstacles. This combination of technology is likely to be very effective on larger-sized animals.
Volvo's Development in Sweden
In Volvo's home of Sweden, approximately 20 vehicle collisions occur per day involving a vehicle and a moose. The company engineers hope to reverse this emerging trend through their development of driverless vehicles. One key area of priority and focus is reducing pedestrian-related crashes. These efforts should also have a tremendous benefit in the reduction of animal collisions. Sensors are apparently in various stages of development that are capable of detecting and differentiating the characteristics of an object, such as things made of metal, fur or flesh.
Best Safety Practices
Colorado Parks & Wildlife explains that as we experience fewer hours of daylight, drivers must be more careful regarding crash avoidance. They recommend adhering to the following best practices:
- Reduce your speed. If you are forced to suddenly adjust to avoid an animal, doing so at lower speeds is safer and more effective.
- Remain alert. This is extremely important during the periods of dusk and dawn when animals are typically most active.
- Scan the area ahead of where you will be traveling to allow yourself potentially better time for reaction.
- Remember that many species travel together, meaning that if you see one animal there may be others near.
- When animals are near the roadway, flash the headlights or use the horn to deter them and potentially alert other drivers.
- Wear your safety belt. The data is clear that those neglecting to wear a seat belt are far more likely to be severely injured or killed in these types of collisions.
- Maintain sufficient auto insurance, typically collision or comprehensive coverage applies in these instances.
Effects of Environmental Conditions
The California Roadkill Observation System has now been studying the patterns associated with the presence of animals on the roads for six years. They explain that environmental factors are a major contributor. For example, during the state's recent drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016, more animals were found to be crossing roadways because they were in search of sources of water and food. Toward the end of the drought, these numbers dwindled as the wildlife population in the region fell. They explained that such “roadkill data” is an indicator of the overall condition of the local wildlife population.
In the end, wildlife can be a problem when traveling on Colorado roads, especially our scenic routes. Be alert. Stay safe. And drive on.