BY BILL PHILLIPS
Last week, a vehicle collided with a moose on Otway Road.
The driver was OK, the moose was killed, and the car suffered extensive damage.
Motorists hitting wildlife is a common occurrence in British Columbia and this time of year is particularly dangerous.
“We’re moving right into the peak time for moose collisions,” said Gayle Hesse, coordinator, Wildlife Collision Prevention Program for British Columbia Conservation Foundation.
The high-risk time of encountering an animal on the road are between 6 and 8 a.m. and 5 and 7 p.m.
It’s a combination of more traffic on the road as people are typically going to or coming home from work at that time, changing light levels, and the animals are more active.
“Knowing those things gives drivers an edge,” said Hesse. “If you can drive expecting to see animals on the road rather than being surprised by them, you may be able to give yourself an extra second to avoid a collision.”
Animals find the roads and roadsides attractive because usually at this time of year they’re wading through deep snow in the bush and roads provide easy travelling. They move down from the mountains into the valley bottoms where there are more roads and more traffic. In addition, they can be attracted to salt on the roads.
Hitting a moose can be particularly dangerous.
“The animals are so big,” said Hesse. “Passenger cars knock the legs out from under the moose and they tend to come crashing down on the windshield or the roof. The occupants of the vehicle have significant risk of injury or fatality.”
The best thing drivers can do to avoid collisions with wildlife, is slow down says Hesse.
“You have to slow down to give yourself time to react to anything on the road,” she said. “You have to be watching for wildlife. Sometimes with moose, watch for the big black hole in the middle of the road, they’ll block out the headlights of an oncoming car.”
She adds that animals often travel together so beware of the second or third animal. Often it’s not the first animal you see that causes you trouble, it’s the one behind.
She adds that if you see a deer, don’t swerve. It’s better to brake than swerve, swerving could take you into oncoming traffic or into the ditch.
With moose, because they are so big, it’s a little different. She adds if you have to brake, don’t look directly at the animal in your path, look where you want to go because we tend to steer the vehicle where we’re looking.
She also encourages motorists to pay attention to wildlife warning signs.
“They’re not just scattered randomly across the landscape,” she said.
Years ago the Ministry of Transport erected reflectors on many highways. Those don’t deter wildlife, so don’t think you’re OK if you’re driving in an area where there are reflectors. In addition, whistles for your vehicle don’t work either, Hesse said. They don’t make enough noise and if wildlife does hear it, they are just as likely to run into traffic as away from it.
Provincially, there are about 6,000 carcasses removed from highways every year. The Ministry of Transport estimates that for every one carcass that is removed, an additional three are hit and whose fate is unknown. That means about bout 24,000 animals are hit every year.
“In northern B.C. the numbers around 2,600-3,000 collisions reported by ICBC,” said Hesse. “In northern B.C. about one-third of the collisions are moose. In northern B.C. there are three human fatalities per year and about 150 people injured in wildlife collisions.”
If you do hit an animal and you’re OK, then what?
“People are not under any obligation to put a wounded animal out of its misery,” said Hesse. “A lot of time people don’t have the equipment or the expertise to do that, they should call the Conservation Officer Service or the RCMP, who are equipped to handle that kind of situation. Wounded animals are very dangerous. No one wants to see an animal suffer, and it can be very distressing. It’s best left to the professionals.”
If you hit an animal and it is dead, but blocking traffic, you’re obligated to stay at the scene until it is removed.
“Drivers have a duty of care to other drivers,” she said. “You should not knowingly drive away and leave a hazard in the road.”
In addition, you can’t load up the carcass and take it home to fill your freezer.
“All wildlife belongs to the Crown,” she said. “You can call the Conservation Officer service and ask for a permit, which they may or may not grant.”
The message from Hesse is simple … slow down and be aware that wildlife are on the roads.
“Always drive expecting to see animals on the road,” she said. “We have to get out of our complacent mindset when we drive, that might give us another second or two.”