Collisions with animals likely to increase
November 5, 2007
Highway 82 during the fall and winter seasons sometimes looks like a battleground with rotting carcasses and bloodstained pavement resembling a bad driver-education movie.
But this isn’t a movie, and the problem isn’t going away, said D’Wayne Gaymon, senior foreman for Colorado Department of Transportation’s Section 2, which covers the Highway 82 corridor from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.
“Highway 82 has a high number of accidents involving wildlife. It’s higher than most of the other roads in the area,” Gaymon said. “It’s kind of like the bear problem. Bears were here before we moved in, just like the elk. We just need to learn how to coexist.”
During 2006, the Colorado State Patrol responded to 120 wildlife-vehicle collisions on Highway 82. So far this year, they’ve responded to only 43 from milepost two through 38. According to State Patrol Capt. Rich Duran, at this time of year that number is usually much higher.
“Starting now, and certainly during the winter months, the animals are coming down from the high country,” Duran said. “We will typically see an increase in the number of accidents during that time.”
Randy Hampton of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said that the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions is probably higher than reported.
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“In a lot of cases, a deer may be hit and the car may blow out a headlight, and the owner will deal with it on their own and not report it,” Hampton said. “People think of deer and elk because of their size, but the number of raccoons, skunks and small animals hit each year would stagger people.”
Hampton said that this year alone 28 bears have been killed in collisions with vehicles in Garfield County.
Two main factors contributing to the high number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on Highway 82 is the sheer amount of wildlife in the area and vehicles traveling too fast to respond.
“Slowing down and taking time will allow more reaction time,” Duran said. “Paying attention to the time of day and being aware of the possibility that wildlife may be on the road, knowing that animals are going to be out there is going to help.”
Fall and winter are really the perfect storm for wildlife-vehicle collisions in the valley. Highway location, the large number of elk and deer in the area coming down to winter pastures and the shorter daylight hours all contribute.
“Around dusk and right before dawn we get more of them as well,” Duran said.
Duran suggests that motorists finding themselves in a situation where they are going to run into a large animal, it’s likely better to hit it rather than try to avoid it.
“Swerving to avoid it could lead to more serious injuries to you and your passengers,” Duran said. “With the air bags and seat belts, you have a better chance of saving yourself in a direct collision over a rollover.”