Deseret Morning News, Friday, June 23, 2006
Deadly car-deer collisions are targeted
By Joe Bauman
Deseret Morning News
Collisions with large game animals are a serious hazard on Utah highways — almost always fatal for the deer, occasionally deadly or causing injury for the humans, and expensive to clean up.
Vehicles hitting big game animals in Utah killed 10 people in a decade and injured another 300.
In the 10-year period studied by the Utah Department of Transportation, 1992-2001, about 22,000 collisions with deer, elk or moose were reported to law enforcement agencies. Tracy Conti, UDOT’s director of operations, said this may represent only a quarter to a third of actual collisions, since most go unreported.
If so, that places the number of such accidents at 6,600 to 8,800 per year.
Another indication of the large number of deer, elk and moose hit in the state comes in figures provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Counting only the animals removed from Utah roadways by the DWR, the number amounts to about 2,341 per year. This does not include those moved to beside the road.
Others are picked up by UDOT contractors who travel the 6,000 miles of state routes looking for carcasses, said Conti.
Conti and DWR director Jim Karpowitz reported on the problem during a meeting this week of the Legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, held in the Capitol complex.
Karpowitz gave this breakdown of large game populations in the state: deer, 300,000; elk, 60,000; moose, 4,000. He said 98 percent of the collisions are with deer.
The cost to the DWR alone to get dead animals off the roadways amounts to about $156,000 a year, he said. One employee in the central region is “affectionately known as Dead Deer Dan,” Karpowitz said.
UDOT spends about $400,000 annually for carcass removal, with $70,000 going to contractors who drive the roads twice a week. Another cost is damage to vehicles that collide with animals.
Not only are the animals unsightly, but they could cause further accidents if motorists swerve to avoid them or skid when hitting remains.
Conti said UDOT tries to minimize the accidents by controlling vegetation beside roads, allowing better visibility and keeping animals away from highways.
“We don’t pick up all the road kills, especially in rural Utah,” Karpowitz said. If a carcass is not near a residence, it may be moved to the road’s shoulder and allowed to decompose.
Another method to reduce road kill is to build fences along highways, as in portions of Spanish Fork and Salina canyons, two big areas for deer-car accidents, according to Karpowitz.
UDOT is “going to do more and more fencing of highways over the next several years,” he told the Deseret Morning News. “We’re working with them to guarantee wildlife have access — either under or over the highways that are going to be fenced.”
Properly designed wildlife overpasses and underpasses can work well, he added.
Signs also help prevent collisions by reminding motorists to slow down and be alert. “In certain parts of the state UDOT has put up some new signs with flashing lights on them that have actually reduced road kills,” Karpowitz said.
During the committee meeting, Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan, said it would be appropriate for UDOT to build signs with numbers for people to call to report dead deer. “I think the public would help, I really do,” he said.
“It’s obviously a safety issue,” said Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.
The DWR and UDOT will report back to the Legislature in the fall about further work on the problem.
Although accidents with big game animals have killed 10 people in a decade and injured another 300, Conti said in a Deseret Morning News interview that “domestic animals kill more.”
Cattle and horses are so big and heavy that in an accident they go “right through the windshield.” With these animals, too, a key to reducing collisions is improved fencing.