Motorists and wildlife still encounter each other violently on Colorado roads despite whistles and other gadgets people mount on their automobiles in hopes of deterring deer from roadsides.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Gary Meirose said although he hasn't done a study on the phenomenon, he hasn't seen evidence to suggest that any device is effective in halting the problem.
He said this after noting that even some state patrol vehicles are equipped with such devices.
"They (deterrent devices) don't work, none of them," said Mark Madden, an auto body technician at TNT Auto Body. "In fact, I know they don't. I work on a lot of cars that have them."
Owner Curtis Thompson said as much as 75 percent of TNT's business during the winter comes from vehicles damaged in collisions with wildlife.
Typical repair costs usually range from $2,000 to $10,000, but average about $5,000, Madden said.
"That one's a deer. That one's a deer," Madden said, flipping through a pile of invoices. "The one in the (painting) booth is a deer. The one in the shop is a deer."
Madden and the auto refinisher, Klint Cooley, were working on a Dodge Ram that had recently encountered a buck. Although the truck had a giant steel bumper, the buck caused considerable damage, about $5,000. According to Madden, the collision occurred on the highway when the sun was in the driver's eyes. The deer hit the bumper, but its head flopped against the corner of the hood and crumpled it.
The radiator, the bumper and most of the parts on the front axle were covered in bits of flesh and blood from the animal.
The sight and smell were quite unpleasant, but Cooley, who grew up working on a wrecker, didn't seem to mind too much. He's seen much worse, he said.
Thompson said business from wildlife collisions has just now started to come in, with cold weather and hunting pressure forcing the animals to move around more.
"We're just now seeing the first wave of deer hits," Thompson said.
Normally, the season starts earlier for the auto body shop, but Thompson said fewer animals were moving down from the high country during the warm autumn, and TNT saw less business.
Thompson has another theory about why this season might have been a little slower in the early fall. He said he thinks wildfires also get the animals up and moving, and eventually they cross highways in northwest Colorado. Comparing last year's fire season to this one, Thompson said his business has dipped accordingly.
Other repairs have come in on the heels of the snow.
"In the winter, it's a toss-up between deer and icy roads," Thompson said.
Motorists who travel the busy commute between Craig and Steamboat probably are at higher risk for the number of miles they travel on slick highways.
TNT has been in business six years. Thompson sees the work as of vital importance to his customers.
"A lot of people are down to one vehicle and they have to have it up and running," Thompson said.
Although body shops report seeing more business from wildlife collisions in winter, Meirose said the state patrol sees it year-round.
"If you drive between here and Meeker any day, you'll see it," Meirose said.
And some motorists fill their freezers with the animals they take with their bumpers.
"I've had people waiting to see if they can have it," Meirose said.
Troopers can fill out roadkill permits so drivers can take possession of the animals. The only stipulation is that "they have take it all," Meirose said. In practice, this means a roadkill permit holder cannot field dress the animal on the roadside.
Troopers who respond to car versus deer collisions have to drag the carcass off the road if the motorist does not want to keep the animal.
"We drag it off so it's not an eyesore," Meirose said.
If the animal is not dead, troopers will dispatch it on site.
"We don't want to see any animal in misery," Meirose said.
Although the collisions cause damage and logistical problems, it's often better than the alternative.
"A lot of times, swerving to avoid (wildlife) gets people in more trouble," Meirose said.
That goes for both damage to the car and traffic citations.
The state patrol will cite drivers who swerve into ditches or oncoming traffic to avoid wildlife.
"It's your responsibility to stay in your lane and on the road," Meirose said.
Sometimes, even motorists who don't swerve can be cited. A classic example of this is when someone driving too fast collides with a deer, or a group of them. Troopers can determine the approximate speed of the vehicle from the skid marks, and can cite people for driving too fast for conditions.
"The speed limit is posted for optimum conditions," Meirose said.
Those conditions are dry roads and daylight hours. At night or on slick roads, motorists are expected to adjust accordingly.
"Sixty-five may not be a safe speed for driving at night," Meirose said.
He offered advice for winter drivers:
- maintain a safe distance from other vehicles
- avoid accelerating or decelerating rapidly
- slow down
People who drive slower have more time to respond to road hazards, and that includes deer and elk.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.