Deer crossings leading cause of vehicle accidents

It happens every year. Deer and elk migrate from their fall ranges to their winter ranges, traveling from the high country east of Craig to the west.

To get where they're going, they have to cross Colorado Highway 13.

Someone's vehicle always gets busted up in the process.

So far this year, 193 motorists have reported animal-caused crashes in Moffat County to the Colorado State Patrol. That accounts for 63 percent of all crashes in the county. The percentage is far ahead of the second cause of accidents, inattentive driving at 7.8 percent.

"The main thing I have seen is people are driving too fast. The best thing you can do is slow down and watch out for deer," said Sgt. Gary Meirose of the CSP.

Almost every road leaving Craig is bad for animal-automobile accidents, Meirose said.

Moreover, this is a bad time of year for such collisions as the animals migrate, said Brad Petch, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Animal-caused accidents always are frequent during hunting season, as hunters get the animals stirred up. Petch said he would expect to see many animals on roads during the first snows, as deer and elk make their breaks for the winter ranges.

In more mountainous parts of the state, it is easy to identify wildlife corridors across highways, because there are only one to two-mile stretches where wildlife can get across.

"Our situation here is really very much different," Petch said. "It's a sheet migration."

Animals cross Colorado highways 13 and 40 along 15- to 30-mile stretches, Petch said. Tools such as fences and underpasses can be used in the smaller wildlife corridors to control where animals cross the highway. But on Moffat County's open roads, such techniques don't work.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is attempting to keep deer and elk off of U.S. Highway 40 between Craig and Hayden by constructing a series of reflectors along the roadside the will reflect vehicle headlights into an array visible only to animals.

The project has been successful in other states, CDOT officials said. They plan to implement the program in 2005.

Drivers are required by law to report collisions, including those caused by animals, Meirose said. Drivers whose vehicles hit animals and don't report it can be charged with failure to report an accident.

When an accident is reported, a state trooper will arrive and confirm that an animal caused the accident and consider whether the accident could have been prevented.

Drivers can get a ticket if the trooper determines they were speeding or otherwise violating the law at the time of the accident. But Meirose said tickets are issued less than 5 percent of the time. It's been six to eight months since a trooper issued a ticket in an animal collision, and that motorist was driving 80 mph.

If someone is going to hit a deer, the driver should strike it head on and not swerve.

"Don't go for the ditch, because you're going to do more damage," Meirose said.

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