Sunday, November 07, 2010

Watch Out For Moose!

In many parts of Canada, large animals on the roads are a significant danger at night. If I'm not on a full divided highway, I rarely drive much above 80 km/h at night, and often slower than that, much to the annoyance of my passengers. Although it is kind of slow and painful, it occasionally pays off, like the other night.

On Thursday evening, I was driving a few kilometers away from my property in Port Elgin, and saw a moose on the highway. I swerved to the left, and missed it by about a foot. It's a good thing I swerved left, because if I had gone to the right, I would have hit a second moose behind the first that I didn't see initially. Or maybe even worse, I wouldn't have made it past the first one and hit TWO moose at the same time. This is exactly why I drive a lot slower at night.

(Click on the photos to see them in higher resolution).

I find that moose are harder to see than deer. For one, their coats are darker, so they don't stand out as much. Also, deer are skittish and usually turn to face an oncoming vehicle, so motorists often see the reflections from their eyes. However, a moose is usually either stupid or indifferent, or too high off the road surface for drivers in low cars, so you never see their eyes.

Hitting a moose isn't anything like hitting a deer. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have hit deer. It's the kind of thing that nearly every rural driver expects could happen at least once in their life. But all that a deer usually does is trash your car. I don't mean to downplay this type of accident, because hitting a deer is still very dangerous. Unfortunately, more than a dozen people die every year in Canada because of collisions with deer. I looked up the stats for deer accidents and the numbers in the United States are stunning: there are an average of a MILLION AND A HALF collisions per YEAR between deer and vehicles. That translates to about 150 deaths, which means that 0.1% of collisions result in fatalities. It seems like a low percentage, but that's still far too many. But your chances of getting killed when hitting a moose (or elk or caribou) are a LOT higher. A deer might weigh up to 200 pounds. A moose is usually north of a thousand pounds. Check out the photos at this link:

Recently, our part of the province saw a very high profile moose accident just outside of Moncton, where a young couple died, leaving behind a 2-year old child:

Here are a few tips from a BC website:

- Moose eyes do reflect the light from headlights, but often the moose's eyes are too high above the beam to catch the light. A grown moose often stands taller than a car.

- Moose are a hazard in summer (as well as in winter). They crave salt and often get it from the side of the road.

- Long straight stretches of road are still hazardous. Drivers tend to speed and thus cannot react in time if a moose or other animal does appear.

- Deer are herding animals. Just because you miss one does not mean you are clear of them.

- There are no studies proving conclusively that deer whistles work. It is better to be wildlife aware when driving, and not to rely on the whistle.

Anyway, next time you're driving at night and see a "wildlife on highway" sign, remember that you're going to get to your destination a lot FASTER if you don't run into an animal. Driving slowly isn't a bad idea.