It’s a massacre, annually taking the lives of more animals than laboratories and hunters combined. It’s a major threat to our native wildlife but you’re unlikely to see much about it on television or read much about it in the newspaper or on the internet. There aren’t any high-profile public campaigns against it and you won’t be asked to donate money to stop it. Every day an estimated 1,000,000 animals die on American roads. And while it’s tempting to think it’s only raccoons, possum, deer and stray domestic animals that are struck down it’s not. Even the more iconic American animals such as Bison, Bald Eagles, Alligators and Grizzly Bears meet their end on our roads.
Animal-vehicle accidents are having a devastating impact on some of our most endangered species. In July a male Ocelot was killed on State Highway 100 in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of southern Texas. This refuge is one of the Ocelot’s last strongholds within the United States but in the last thirty years 40% of the refuge’s Ocelots have died on roads. Cars have proven equally dangerous for the Florida Panther. According to statistics provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 49 panthers were struck down on Florida’s roads between January 2012 and October 2014. An incredible number considering the Florida Panther population is estimated between 125-175 animals.
Animal-vehicle accidents also have a human component. According to the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration approximately 300,000 animal-vehicle accidents are reported annually. This number rose 33% between 1990 and 2004 despite an overall decline in vehicle accidents. The administration also reports it’s likely that at least half of all animal-vehicle accidents aren’t reported. Approximately 90% of all animal-vehicle accidents reported involve deer with an average cost of approximately $5,000 in vehicle repairs and medical care. Each year in the United States more than 200 people are killed in animal-vehicle accidents.
Every day nearly 200,000,000 drivers travel our nation’s 4,000,000 miles of roads making animal-vehicle accidents inevitable, especially given the widespread public apathy on the topic. Many of these accidents are preventable if we’re willing to take a few, simple steps;
Slowing down just a bit can improve the odds of avoiding an animal-vehicle accident. As an example, a car traveling at 50 mph travels over 73 feet per second. The same car, driving 5 mph slower travels just 66 feet per second. Those 7 feet can mean the difference between clipping an animal and the animal clearing the road before you pass.
Dusk, Dark and Dawn
The overwhelming majority of animal-vehicle accidents occur between dusk and dawn. This is when wildlife is most active and our vision is least acute.
Know Where You Are
An animal-vehicle accident can occur anywhere but is most likely on a country road or on a road in or adjacent to a forested area than on an inner-city street or an urban expressway.
Use Your Bright-lights When Possible
Our vehicle’s bright-lights better illuminate what’s in front of us and what’s off to the sides of the road. Depending on the animal you might even see your lights reflected in its eyes.
Look For More Than One
In the spring and summer many animals will be traveling with their young. Animals such as Deer, Coyotes, Turkeys and stray dogs can be encountered in groups regardless of the time of year. Always be aware that the animal you see might not be the only animal on or near the road.
By minimally changing our driving habits we can save wildlife from dying on our roads.
Winton E. Ray / Curator of Invertebrates