Safe passages aren’t just for wildlife — they benefit people too. In the last 16 years, there has been a 43% increase in traffic volume along Interstate 40 in the Pigeon River Gorge, a section of scenic-yet-busy highway that connects Western North Carolina to East Tennessee.
Due to this increased use, wildlife mortality caused by vehicle collisions is rapidly rising — and the impact of these collisions can be costly, dangerous or even fatal for humans as well.
Collisions with larger animals like black bear, elk or deer can often result in multiple-vehicle accidents, causing serious human injury, as well as economic impacts from medical costs and property damage.
Each year, vehicle collision-related costs add up to roughly $12 billion in the U.S. On average, colliding with a deer costs about $6,000 — and running into an elk can cost upwards of $17,000. If animal populations decline due to such collisions, this could also impact the environment and economy on a much larger scale, decreasing wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing opportunities for visitors and residents.
However, these unsafe road conditions can be mitigated through careful planning — allowing animals to thrive among humans in a shared (and safe) environment for all.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation shared the following helpful tips for motorists:
• Although it does not decrease the risk of being in a crash, wearing a seat belt gives you a better chance of avoiding or minimizing injuries if you hit a deer or other animal.
• Always maintain a safe amount of distance between your vehicle and others, especially at night. If the vehicle ahead of you hits a large animal, you could also become involved in the crash.
• Slow down in areas posted with deer, bear and elk crossing signs and in heavily wooded areas, especially during the late afternoon and evening.
• Most wildlife–vehicle crashes occur where animals are more likely to travel, near bridges or overpasses, railroad tracks, streams and ditches. Be vigilant when passing through potentially risky landscapes.
• Drive with high beams on when possible and watch for eyes reflecting in the headlights.
• Deer often travel in groups, so if you see one deer near a road be alert that others may be around.
• If you see an animal near a road, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast.
• Do not swerve to avoid a collision. This could cause you to lose control of your vehicle, increasing the risk of it flipping over, veering into oncoming traffic, or overcorrecting and running off the road and causing a more serious crash.
• If your vehicle does strike a deer or other large animal, do not touch the animal. A frightened and wounded animal can be dangerous or further injure itself. Get your vehicle off the road if possible and call 911.
• 26,000 vehicles pass through the 28-mile stretch of highway in the Pigeon River Gorge daily — fragmenting species habitat and creating a barrier effect.
• Every 26 seconds (or less) a driver hits an animal in the United States, making highways one of the greatest barriers to wildlife movement.
• In addition to killing 1-2 million large animals every year, these collisions cause 200 human fatalities and more than 26,000 injuries.
• Wildlife crossing structures (used together with associated elements like fencing) have been shown to reduce motorist collisions involving wildlife by up to 97%.
Source for all above: ARC Solutions
• Wildlife–vehicle collision-related costs add up to roughly $12 billion in the U.S. annually.
• The cost of a deer-vehicle collision averages around $6,000. Running into an elk can cost upwards of $17,000.