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driving concerns

We’ve just moved from Toronto to Northern Ontario and those deer and moose signs on the road trouble me. Do accidents really happen or are those signs just a precaution? How much damage can a moose do to your car? And is there any way to prevent it? — Theresa, North Bay, Ont.

If your car hits a moose, it could shear your car’s roof right off.

“There’s still [a crash] I see as clear as yesterday even though it happened 10 or 15 years ago,” said Staff Sergeant Carolle Dionne, Ontario Provincial Police spokeswoman.

“There was a car with the roof ripped off and a guy walking out in shock like a zombie, with his whole face embedded with shattered glass from the windshield. He was lucky to be alive.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Collisions spike in the fall − mating season for deer and moose. But they happen all year.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Since 2013, 20 people have been killed and 2,613 people injured in collisions with wildlife on Ontario roads. So far this year, there have been 145 injuries and one death. The numbers are generally going up – from 294 injuries in 2013 to 439 last year.

There are more than 14,000 collisions between cars and wildlife reported just in Ontario every year. That’s the most in Canada. And that’s only the crashes that get reported.

Collisions spike in the fall − mating season for deer and moose. But they happen all year. “October through early January you’ll see them out roaming around − rarely are they alone, you’ll see them in groups of two or three,” Dionne said. “During the spring melt, they come out and lick the road salt.”

Moose are especially dangerous because the car knocks out their long legs and their bodies barrel right through the windshield, Dionne said.

Smaller animals, such as foxes, raccoons and turkeys, could cause some damage to your car. And if you swerve to avoid hitting them, you could get into a serious crash.

“You have to think of the domino effect − if you swerve, you could hit another car or the ditch,” Dionne said. “If it’s between [killing] me and [killing] a turkey, I’ll choose the turkey.”

Slow and steady might save your life

The No. 1 way to avoid a collision is to drive the speed limit − or slower − and scan the sides of the road.

“If you are driving in an area where animals are likely to cross the road, slow down,” said Ian Law, president and chief instructor of ILR Car Control School, in an e-mail. “Most animals are active in the evening, night and early mornings when visibility is compromised by darkness − the speed limit no longer applies when vision is compromised by lack of light.”

At night, use your high beams so you can see animals from a distance.

And what should you do if you do see an animal, such as a deer, that’s big enough to cause serious damage?

“Look in your rear-view mirror, apply the brakes immediately and steer straight until you have a chance to slow down to where you can manoeuvre around the animal,” Dionne said.

Animal overpasses reducing crashes?

There are ways, including fences and animal-only overpasses and underpasses, to keep animals off the roads.

They’re designed to protect both cars and animals, including threatened species such as salamanders and turtles.

“They’re proven to work and have been used successfully in [British Columbia],” said Michael Drescher, associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s school of planning. “People seem to be of the idea that they cost a lot of money, but what we have found that the cost is quite minimal if they’re incorporated into the renovating a highway, which needs to be done every few years.”

There have been fences and crossing structures along Highway 11, north of Huntsville, and on Highway 69, south of North Bay near Parry Sound, that have been shown to reduce crashes.

“I travel from North Bay to Orillia every week and I can’t even remember the last time I saw a deer near the road − and I used to see them all the time,” said OPP’s Dionne. “You don’t see them. I see turkeys now.”

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