Roadkill avoidance tips from ANIMAL PEOPLE
that may save YOUR LIFE TOO!
A record 210 Americans were killed in deer/car collisions in 2003, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Studies indicate that up to 70% of all deer/car crashes occur when a driver slows for one deer, then steps on the gas and hits another. Fawns soon grow as big as their mamas, but continue to follow mama for a year or more. A doe will often have two fawns, so if you see one deer, slow down and look for two more. In spring and summer, deer hide from danger. In fall, when the leaves are down, they run. More than half of all deer/car collisions occur in October and November. The rut (mating season) is one cause of this, but the peak for collisions coincides more closely with the peak days for hunting than with the peak of rut. If you see hunters' vehicles parked by the road, watch for frightened deer running from gunfire, or hunters driving deer. At night, look for disoriented deer who have been driven out of their home range by hunters, and are trying to find their way back. If you collide with a deer, duck. Driver deaths tend to result from a deer flying through the windshield after having her legs knocked out from under her. The lower you are, the safer you are when this happens.
Be especially aware that birds may fly into the road when close to potentially intoxicating food sources, such as pyracantha berries, any sort of fermenting fruit, or freshly sprayed fields, where dying insects may become a lethal temptation. If trees arch over a road, fledglings may fall from nests into the road in late spring. Should you try to rescue oneor any animal in the roaduse your car as a shield against oncoming traffic, with your four-way flashers on.
As many as 1.2 million dogs are killed on U.S. roads each year. Many are chasing something--a ball, a child, a cat, a squirrel. When you see anything enter the road that a dog might chase, look for the dog!
Cars killed about 5.4 million cats per year in the early 1990smore than were killed in U.S. animal shelters! Since then both the roadkill toll on cats and the shelter toll have plummeted, to about 500,000 and 2.5 million, respectively, but only because the advent of neuter/return programs has markedly reduced the feral cat population. Most roadkilled cats are hit at night. Typically cats know cars are dangerous, but confuse the beams from your headlights with your car itself. When the lights go by them, they think it's safe to dash out. Expect them to make this mistake and you'll be prepared to react if they do.
Armadillos "seem similar in habits to possums," says Pat Hayes, an ANIMAL PEOPLE roadkill tip sheet user who has a lot more experience with them than we do. "They are slow, short-sighted, and cannot run out of the way fast. They seem to be attracted to the grass verges of roads, often several together, and wander onto the highway at night. Judging from the roadkills one sees, which are usually intact corpses at the edge of the highway, I would guess that most of them are side-swiped because they cannot get out of the way quickly enough. Watch for 'bumps' near the road, especially at night. If you see an armadillo, slow down and expect others nearby. You will have to drive around them, particularly on the highway, as they are not fast enough to avoid a moving vehicle.
In wet weather, if you are near a pond or ditch and it's not yet cold, you'll likely see frogs. Some species will freeze in your headlights. Others will just keep hopping. Slow down and try to drive around them.
If you see a "rock" in the road that looks larger than rocks in roads usually are, or seems to move even just slightly, think "turtle." If you stop to rescue the turtle, use your car as a shield against traffic, with four-way flashers on, and always move the turtle to the side of the road that the turtle is heading toward, as they tend to migrate along rigidly set routes.
Coldblooded snakes often warm themselves on roads. If you see a straight object that looks like a stick in the road, assume it's a snake until you know it isn't. Late in the day, as the temperature drops, snakes may go into torpor and be unable to move without help.
In spring and early summer young beavers leave their parents to seek their own pond. They move slowly, usually at night, and can be hard to seebut if you are driving near wetlands, expect them. They typically try to cross roads at culverts.
Raccoons often travel in families of up to seven members. If one is hit, the rest may stay beside her and get hit too. Raccoons also scavenge roadkills. They will turn to face a sudden danger, often stepping into the path of a speeding car. If the raccoon is directly ahead, you will have to stop. Otherwise, the safest tactic is to avoid attracting a raccoon's notice. Don't jam on the brakes, don't accelerate; just ease off the gas and cruise on by.
Common in late spring through early fall, a rabbit scared out of the road by the car ahead of you might circle right back into the road. A quick tap of your horn as you approach where the rabbit went may freeze him out of harm's way. A rabbit racing out in front of you may also be under pursuit by a fox or coyote, who will usually stop, or a dog, who may not, or a hawk, owl, or eagle, who may already be in mid-strike, at approximately your eye level.
Opossums feast on roadkill, a habit that gets about 8.3 million opossums a year roadkilled. A large object in the road at night may be roadkill and an opossum, who may either freeze in your headlights or try to run away. Opossums don't run very fast, and sometimes "play possum" in front of cars, pretending to be dead in hopes of not being disturbed. Slow down until you have positively identified any situation involving an opossum.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits
Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are among the hardest species to avoid. All three evade predators, when on the ground, chiefly through their ability to rapidly change directions.
The surest way to avoid a rabbit, chipmunk, or squirrel is to stop and wait until the critter is safely out of the road. As long as you are still moving forward, the rabbit, chipmunk, or squirrel will continue to assess your car as a threat akin to a dog or fox, only bigger, or as a hawk, and keep switching and reversing course.
This explains why some fairly extensive studies have discovered that speed is not a factor in killing squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks: they are as likely to get hit by a slow-moving car as one going like a bat out of hell, simply because they zig-zag in the wrong direction, mis-guessing which way the driver will swerve.
Fortunately, it is easy to anticipate when you are likely to see rabbit, chipmunk, or squirrel. Rabbits are most plentiful in lightly wooded areas or alongside brushy ditches, from the end of spring through the end of summer. They may be seen either day or night. At night they freeze in the glare of headlights.
Chipmunks and squirrels take to the roads in greatest number at the end of summer, when windy weather at the onset of fall tends to litter roadsides with edible nuts. Chipmunks and squirrels will remain plentiful on the roads all year in tree-lined areas where there is no snow cover, and in snow country will continue to appear until after the first snowfall that stays down. They are usually out only in broad daylight.
Cattle, Bison, Horses, Elk, Moose
Cattle, bison, horses, elk, moose, and bears are all most often hit in hilly and partially wooded areas where broken fences are not easily visible and even large animals can be unseen as they cross roads at dips. Dips tend to coincide with streams, which are natural animal corridors.
Cattle, bison, horses, elk, moose and bears are all hard to see at night, because they tend to be dark, and tend to stand above the driver's visual focus, which will be where the headlights meet the pavement.
If a cow or bison is standing at that point, the car will move forward eight to 10 feet before most drivers see the cow, and if a horse, elk, or moose is there, the car may move forward another 12 feet. This markedly reduces stopping time, especially when driving fast.
Cattle and bison will usually break through a fence as a herd. They will stand their ground at the approach of a threat. This increases their likelihood of being hit, if not seenbut cattle and bison are predictable, and once one member of a herd starts to move in a given direction, chances are good that they all will.
The responses of horses, elk, and moose are harder to anticipate. Some act like cattle; some bolt like deer.
Bears are often not seen at all, until too late. If you see a dark mass where you should see road, think bear. Fortunately, bears rarely linger in roads, but they often eat berries in roadside ditches, and may be hit on narrow roads because they are focused on the berries, not the traffic. Where traffic is fast and frequent, bears usually cross roads on the dead run. Females tend to be followed by cubs, so as with deer, if you see a bear, look for one or two more.
The most important thing to do, upon suddenly meeting any of these animals in the road, is stop. Don't honk or try to outguess the animal; just stop as quickly as you can without risking a skid. Allow the animals time to react and move aside, and proceed with caution.
Car collisions with cattle, bison, horses, elk moose, and bears are frequently fatal to the driver, since knocking the legs out from under the animal typically results in the body going through the windshield of the vehicle, crushing the occupants.