RBC I Until the last couple of months, travelers on State Highway 13 between Meeker and Rifle were well-versed with the wildlife crossing zone mandating slower speeds at night during the fall and winter months. The zones, part of a 2010 traffic safety bill that attempted to slow drivers on 100 miles of Colorado roads, were intended to decrease the more than 3,000 wildlife collisions reported in the state each year.
The program didn’t work. Many people didn’t bother slowing down; they sped up instead. After three years of data-gathering, legislators determined results were “inconclusive,” declared the program a wash and the signs were removed earlier this year.
No matter where you live in Rio Blanco County—and whether you obeyed the short-lived traffic laws or not—when you’re behind the wheel and traveling cross-county, you’re heading into wildlife zones. And though the signs no longer make you take driving precautions, now’s the time of year for caution on the roads.
Though the number of wild animal crashes in Rio Blanco County has decreased substantially in the last decade—2004 saw close to 200 animal-vehicle collisions, while in 2012 and 2013, drivers reported fewer than 50 each year—December is a prime migration month as animals breed and search out new feeding grounds.
That means drivers need to hone an awareness of their surroundings.
“Slow down and stay alert when you see a highway wildlife warning sign, especially between dusk and dawn,” Colorado State Patrol Chief Colonel James Wolfinbarger says in a CSP “Wildlife on the Move” campaign article. “If you see one deer or elk, expect others. Remember to scan ahead on the sides of the road for signs of movement and to watch for the shining eyes of animals that reflect car headlights at night.”
While harried drivers may not want to hear it, the most important thing they can do is also the rational thing: slow down, Give a driver too little reaction time, and the outcome will likely be a wildlife collision, The Living With Wildlife advisory board says.
Some driving know-how may seem common-sense, but it’s often ignored. Keep in mind these tips if you’re traveling the open road:
• If you see an animal in the middle of the road, brake, but don’t swerve.
• Don’t “overdrive” your lights; speeding just minimizes the time you have to react to an obstacle.
• Don’t assume that just because you’re about to pass an animal on the roadside, it’s safe to accelerate. Deer are notorious for bolting onto roads an instant before a vehicle passes.
• If you see an animal, keep an eye out for more than one. Deer and elk rarely travel alone.
• Anticipate animals shifting direction quickly, sometimes into oncoming traffic.
• Keep distractions like cell phones well out of reach.
If you do hit an animal, keeping control of your vehicle during and after a collision is just as important as prevention measures, Wolfinbarger says. That means continuing to slow down while focusing on staying on the road and in your lane after impact.
Finally, while the safety of your family and yourself may be a primary motivation to drive smarter during the migratory season, it’s not the only one. The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association says that wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Americans more than $1 billion each year, with the average car owner paying more than $3,000 to repair damages.