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How to avoid a highway collision with a moose

A moose runs in front of a car as it crosses the road in Gros Morne National Park in NL Tuesday, August 14, 2007.


While driving, ask yourself: What would I do if an animal, weighing 700 kilograms and standing more than two metres tall, suddenly appeared out of the dark in the middle of the road? This question may prove especially useful on straight, boring stretches of highway, lined by wilderness, when your attention is drifting and your foot's a little heavy on the gas. This is when, statistics suggest, your odds of (literally) running into a moose increase.

"Try to be proactive when you drive," says Gayle Hesse, a biologist and the provincial co-ordinator of British Columbia's Wildlife Collision Prevention Program. "We have long stretches of highway in northern B.C. where not much happens and not much is going on, so occupy your mind by playing a mental 'what if' game." To avoid having to play out the scenario in real life, Hesse says, stick to the speed limit. Although encounters with wildlife can happen any time, fall is a risky for collisions with deer and moose. Research suggests that dusk and dawn are times to be most on your guard.

If you see wildlife warning signs, take heed: That's usually because there have been other collisions along your route. And don't just watch that piece of pavement in front of you.

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"People can actively improve their search pattern" Hesse says. "Look farther down the road than you usually do." Scan the sides of the road. Deer travel in groups: If you see one, there are bound to be more potentially bouncing onto the road right behind it. At night, stay sharp for eyes reflecting in your headlights, although, Hesse warns, this strategy won't work for moose, which are too tall. She suggests watching for a big shadow up ahead where there shouldn't be one; truck drivers have told her they look for "a black hole."

And what if it's too late? Swerve or not? That depends. Hesse is reluctant to be definitive – drivers have to adjust to their circumstances (hence her advice to make – and update – that "what if" plan). Generally, she says, safety experts suggest it is better to brake hard than to swerve, since the latter course is unpredictable.

When you brake, look to where you want the car to go – in the case of a deer, she says, that's ideally its butt. "Hopefully, by the time you have reached the back end of the deer," Hesse says, "it has moved on."

If it's a moose, however, the stakes are higher. When a car hits a moose, it typically rams its legs, flipping the body onto the windshield or the roof. Hitting a moose is often compared to running into a brick wall. "If I was going to swerve," Hesse says, "it would be for a moose."

And if you do make contact, don't drive away. Pull over, and take a moment to recover. You are obligated to warn other drivers after you have collided with wildlife – if there's a carcass on the road, says Hesse, stay "for a reasonable amount of time" and put on your four-way flashers. If the animal is wounded, don't try to put it out of its misery. Call the RCMP or the local conservation office. And should you inclined toward free steaks, Hesse points out that, while provincial rules may vary, in B.C., it's technically theft to stuff a carcass in your trunk without an okay from authorities: Wildlife is the property of the crown.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More


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