The Great Northwest is home to many wildlife species of which many take to roads for crossing. A vast distance of our highways and freeways run straight through their natural habitats and migration routes, creating a high risk for collisions and even accidents as a result. It isn’t uncommon to see a struck-and-killed animal on the side of the highway and you probably know someone with a story about hitting an animal or witnessing the unfortunate happenstance. In fact, State Farm Insurance estimates roughly 1.9 million animal collision claims between 2019-2020 were filed in the U.S. In addition, U.S. drivers average a 1 in 116 chance of colliding with an animal on the road.
Truthfully, no matter where you live, collisions with wildlife and even domestic pets is a dangerously high risk to be aware of. The most likely of places to hit larger wild game would be the rural country roads and dim-lit highways surrounded by forest land. Neighborhoods and highways are also very common with both wild animals and domestic pets such as dogs and cats.
The Idaho Department of Transportation awarded funding to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in 2007 for two projects intended to make roads safer for both wildlife and drivers across the state. According to this, the most common types of wildlife seen on the local roads are as follows:
- Mule Deer
- White Tail Deer
- Pronghorn (antelope)
How you can avoid collisions
Awareness on the road is key at all times behind the wheel. Basic safety precautions are not only wise, but often the law, such as buckling up and keeping to speed limits (weather permitting, reduced speeds may be necessary). Staying alert and watchful of roadsides, refraining from tailgating other vehicles, and driving with lights on in poorer visibility areas or in the dusk hours are important habits to practice. So in addition to these, we would like to share a few tips to help keep you and the wildlife around you a little safer.
Wear seat belts
Always, even within short distances. Seat belts protect lives in the event of an accident.
Use High Beam lights
Not only do high beam lights illuminate dark roadways, they also help to deter animals considering crossing or at least offer more visibility and time for animals to clear the road. Often, animals won’t cross until an oncoming vehicle is close enough to light the way! Just remember to turn down the beams within 500 ft. of an oncoming vehicle.
Use your Horn
We all know the saying…”like a deer in the headlights”… because it is true. Deer are frightened by headlights and often freeze. Honking your horn can help them startle from a freeze and get out of the way. In contrast, there is no supported evidence that mounted deer whistles on the outside of your vehicle work to deter them from your vehicle, so don’t rely on them.
Slow down and stay alert
Signs such as “deer crossing”, and “Watch for Wildlife” really mean it; wildlife in the area is common near the roadway. Take the warning seriously and slow down, keeping watchful for animal life. Likewise, watch for herds. If you see one set of glowing eyeballs off the roadside, chances are there are others following along. Ask any passengers to keep their eyes out as well and signal calmly of any signs. The last thing you want is kids startling you out of excitement at spotting some glowing eyeballs.
Practice caution at high-risk times
Late summer through fall are “peak season” for deer, the most likely animal encounter on the road.
- August-October marks mating season for many animals.
- October-December when mating and hunting are active.
- Feeding time around dawn to dusk (typically between 6-9 p.m.) is the most likely time to encounter animals on or near the road.
- Springtime means young offspring which may cause animals to stop in the road to either wait for or protect their young closeby. If you encounter this, don’t assume they will move, for such reasons they may stay put.
If an accident may happen
It isn’t always possible to avoid collisions. The numbers are high for collisions because often, they do happen even with the most cautious of drivers.
- Do not swerve to avoid impact. Swerving only increases the likelihood of
overcorrecting, losing control of the car and rolling, flipping, or ending up in
- If you are enroute to hitting a wild animal, avoid the center windshield by leaning toward the doorframe. Larger animals are likely to roll over the top hood and impact the center windshield and even roof. Best to get out of the way if impact is inevitable.
- If an impact is made, remain in the vehicle, call for appropriate help. You can’t know certainly if an animal is dead. Wounded animals can panic and attack, potentially hurting you and themselves further. If an accident is serious and warrants medical and technical help, dial 911. If you are able, pull off the road and call the local authorities to report the incident. If damage is done to your vehicle, you can use the report for insurance purposes and the local authorities can be notified of an injured animal. You can report online in some states which will also contribute to data about wildlife in the area and accident prevention efforts.