It’s an all too familiar sight for many Colorado drivers: glowing eyes, reflecting the vehicle’s headlights surrounded by darkness and swirling snow.
It’s enough to make one’s heart rate rise, but there are ways to stay calm and avoid colliding with unsuspecting deer, elk, bighorn or moose in a car’s path.
Unsurprisingly, winter months see more wildlife killed on the roads.
“Wildlife, particularly big game, especially now that we’ve had significant snows, are making their way or have made their way from the high country to lower elevations to forage for food and water,” said Lisa Schwantes, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson.
That means more animals crossing the road in wildlife corridors.
First and foremost, Schwantes reminds drivers to stay alert, especially in areas where large animals tend to hang out.
“We always advise motorists to be very diligent when driving, particularly in rural areas where big game tends to congregate. You’ll see herds along the highway; it’s not an uncommon sight,” Schwantes said.
Second, the risk of colliding with an animal should be another reason to reduce speed over slick roads.
“If you’re driving on icy roadways or snow-packed roadways, slow it down,” Schwantes said.
Slippery roads from snowpack and ice, and poor visibility from blowing snow can make the chances of accidentally hitting a deer, elk, or moose even more likely. The first thing a driver should do when encountering an animal on slippery roads is to let off the accelerator, according to Schwantes.
Slamming on the brake could lead to sliding off the road and potentially worse injury.
Also, having a spotter in the car is also helpful for winter driving, particularly at night.
“If you have the luxury of traveling with a passenger, it’s good to have that person be your extra set of eyes so they can scan the landscape and alert you if you’re coming up on something,” Schwantes said.
Road projects making a difference?
A number of construction projects across the state aimed at keeping wildlife off the roads may be making a difference in animal-car collisions, Schwantes said.
Unfortunately, the 2018 data isn’t reliable so it is difficult to confirm a downward trend.
In CDOT’s region 3, which encompasses the northwestern part of Colorado, 1,055 animals were reported as killed on the road, but that figure is missing three months of data.
A ransomware attack on CDOT discovered in February 2018 compromised some data, so the most recent roadkill report does not include figures from January to March.
Still, there has been some decline in the number of animals killed on the roads in region 3 between 2016 and 2017.
From 2013 to 2016, the number of reported animals killed on roads in northwest Colorado rose from 1,600 to nearly 2,100. The following year saw some decline to about 1,800 reported roadkill, a decline that Schwantes attributes to a number of wildlife overpasses, underpasses and deer fencing installed in recent years.
“These measures, the wildlife structures, are really making a positive impact in the number of animal-vehicle crashes that are happening,” Schwantes said.