From the majestic moose to the swift Canadian loon, from the busy beaver to the magnificent beluga whale, Canada is home to exceptional flora and fauna.
But as our cities get bigger and our highways expand, we’ve been encroaching on our wildlife’s natural habitat – and that means wildlife finds its way into our cities and streets, which can prove dangerous to both human and animal.
Autumn is peak season for vehicle collisions with wildlife: here’s what you need to know to help keep our roads safer for you and your loved ones – and our Canadian wildlife.
According to the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report, the number of animals struck on Ontario roads has increased by 47 per cent from 1999 to ;2014 – that’s 8,964 animals in 1999, with that number increasing to 13,152 in 2014. This also resulted in two human fatalities and 410 injuries. According to another study, that number becomes even more staggering, with approximately 14,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions happening in a year in Ontario.
Did you know that…
- The vast majority (89%) of wildlife-vehicle collisions occur on rural, two-lane roads.
- There is a wildlife-motor vehicle collision approximately every 38 minutes.
- Out of every 17 motor vehicle collisions, one will involve a wild animal.
- Each year, wildlife-car collisions cost about $800 million in Canada.
Where do they occur?
By analyzing the areas where wildlife-vehicle collisions typically occur, experts have been able to narrow down a few common factors. The majority of wild animal-motor vehicle collisions occur on stretches of road where:
- There is an abundance of good habitat and forage near the roadside.
- There is a nearby water source.
- There is an intersection of drainages and creeks with roads.
- There are straight, long, and wide stretches of road.
When do they occur?
Since wild animals are active 24 hours a day, wildlife-vehicle collisions can happen anytime, year-round. However, there are a few peak times when collisions tend to occur more frequently:
- The peak time of day for wild animal-vehicle collisions is between 7 p.m. and midnight.
- Studies show that collisions are highest during dusk and dawn hours, when light levels are lower and animals are more active.
- Collisions spike in autumn months, specifically from October through January – mating season for moose and deer.
- Collisions also spike during spring, in May and June.
How you can reduce your risk
Although there’s no way of predicting when a wild animal may find its way onto a busy street or highway, there are a few measures that we, as motorists, can take in order to reduce our risk of being involved in a collision:
1. Understand animal behaviour
When faced with danger, wild animals have a “fight-or-flight response,” and may react unpredictably when they feel unsafe. An animal may jump in front of your vehicle, even if they see you approaching. Even an animal sitting at the side of the road may unexpectedly bolt. What’s more, some animals travel in groups – such as deer and bears, or mothers and offspring – which means that if one of them crosses the road, the others may follow. Understanding animal behaviour can help us anticipate dangers behind the wheel, so we can react accordingly, and safely.
2. Watch the signs
As always, pay attention to the road signs around you. In particular, watch for Wildlife Warning Signs, which are yellow diamond-shaped signs which, in Ontario, typically have an image of a deer on them. These signs are a reminder to remain alert and cautious and to keep an eye out for wandering wildlife.
3. Slow down!
As is the case with many on-road situations, the one thing that motorists can do to reduce their risk in being involved in a collision with wildlife is to simply slow down.
Speeding decreases your ability to react appropriately behind the wheel, and steer away from an unexpected object in the road in front of you, and makes it much more difficult to come to an abrupt full stop. In the unfortunate event of a collision, speeding also increases the force of impact, raising the risk of severe injury.
Although you might be tempted to speed up when driving on a long, quiet stretch of rural road, the safest thing you can do is take your time and follow the speed limit.
4. Drive defensively
Defensive driving is your best bet for staying safe behind the wheel, especially when it comes to avoiding wildlife-motor vehicle collisions. Defensive driving means paying attention to your surroundings, and anticipating the actions of those around you – including any potential wildlife.
Watch for wildlife on the road, on the shoulder, and along the sides of the road. If you see shining eyes, if may be an animal, as your headlights are reflecting off of the animal’s eyes.
What to do if it happens to you
If a crash with wildlife is inevitable, you should aim for the spot where the animal is coming from rather than where it is going. Keep your eyes on where you want your vehicle to go, not on the animal. Break quickly and firmly.
The first thing you should do after a collision with wildlife is pull off the road and turn on your hazard lights. If you feel comfortable, you can carefully approach the animal – if it is injured, stay away, as an injured animal can be very dangerous. If the animal has been fatally hit, you may remove it from the road if you feel comfortable doing so and are able to.
Before getting back behind the wheel, inspect your vehicle to make sure it is safe to drive. If there has been any human injuries, or damage over $1,000, call 911 or your local police. It’s a good idea to report the location of your collision even if your car hasn’t been damaged, as this helps officials monitor any injured animals or recover animals that have been fatally hit.
While we can’t predict when a wild animal may unexpectedly run onto a busy street, by following the above safety tips, we can work together to help keep our roads safer for all our country’s inhabitants – both human and animal.