Winter Driving: Animals happen. Be prepared.

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

My one and only accident (knock on wood) of the last decade was a run and hit.

You might think I got that backwards, but no. I was coming home from Dawson on a wintery day, when a moose came out of the ditch and ran over my vehicle.

I had slowed down to a near-stop, and pulled into the far lane to give it space, when it decided that it really wanted to get to the other side, so it ran across the road and tried to jump my vehicle.

I wasn’t going very fast, but fast enough to screw up its timing, and it landed on the hood of my car, rolling into the window and crushing it, before hoping off and taking off into the bushes.

I had to drive home the rest of the way at 40 kph, with my window down and my head out the window, while a friend acted as pilot car in front of me. By the time I got home everyone knew what had happened. It was embarrassing and expensive, though fortunately covered under ICBC.

But as we move into winter, the chance of wildlife encounters on the roads increase. It’s darker earlier, making it harder to see animals, and the roads are icy and coated in salt.

“Although a collision with wildlife can happen at any place and at any time, in the Peace region, the highest risk months for wildlife vehicle collisions are October through January,” says Barb Waters, Regional Manager, BC Conservation Foundation. “There can be one or two collisions each day during these months.”

She says that the critical times to watch for wildlife on the roads are between 5:00 to 8:00 am and 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Community-specific information from ICBC animal crash data shows that in the Peace region, there are about 800 wildlife collisions every year. Annually, in northern BC, about three people are killed and 140 people are injured in wildlife collisions.

Recent information from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure indicates that Highway 97 between Dawson Creek and Ft St John ranks in the top ten list of highway corridors where the greatest number of wildlife collisions occurs.

Gayle Hesse, Coordinator of the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program for the British Columbia Conservation Foundation says that both drivers and passengers must actively watch for wildlife on the road and roadside area. People think of the road as a dangerous place, but, she says, animals don’t see it that way. They just see it as a much easier walking path, and are often attracted to the road and roadside area. Expect to see wildlife. “Animals don’t think or perceive danger the same way that humans do,” she says. “They may not recognize a vehicle as dangerous or a horn as a warning, or even if they do, they may not react safely. Animals are unpredictable in their behaviour and may bolt in front of a vehicle or cross and then immediately re-cross the road.”

Deer are often seen in groups, so if there is one animal there are usually more. “The deer you are watching may not be the one that poses the threat; it may be the second or third deer following behind that causes the problem,” she says.