Wildlife vehicle collisions in Colorado.

Deer on road in a mountainous region of Colorado.

The number of wildlife and vehicle collisions (WVC) was 15% higher in 2014 (the most recent data) than the previous year, according to a recent announcement by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). In 2014, 3,960 such accidents were reported, as opposed to 3,437 in 2013. The 2014 figures are also high compared to a 10-year average of 3,590.

Among the 2014 WVCs recorded by CDOT’s Traffic & Safety Division, 287 involved human injuries and six involved human fatalities. The county with the highest number of such accidents in 2014 was LaPlata, with 306, followed by Jefferson County, with 265; Douglas County, with 248; El Paso County, with 209; and Montezuma County, with 169. Broomfield County had no such collisions, and Washington and San Miguel Counties had only one each.

Reporting for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Dennis Webb wrote that Mesa County had its largest number of WVCs in at least a decade. Of those 82 accidents, only six caused injuries to humans, and none caused any human fatalities.

Number of Collisions Varies

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks told Webb that it can be hard to say why the number of WVCs can vary widely from year to year because so many factors are involved. These can range from snowpack levels, to traffic counts, to changing numbers of wild animals in Colorado. Autumn is typically a time of increased WVCs on highways, because snow forces the animals down from the mountains to seek food and water. Most such accidents take place when it is dark outside, from dusk to dawn, when wild animals are more active and harder to spot.

Wildlife Mitigation Features

CDOT continues to build and implement wildlife mitigation features in areas where there have been high rates of WVCs. Some examples of those include a crossing built for large mammals on U.S. 160 west of Durango in LaPlata County; a crossing built for large mammals on U.S. 285 near Conifer in Jefferson County; and three crossings on Interstate 25 south of Colorado Springs in El Paso County — these were made with box culverts that were originally built for drainage, but with fencing will now accommodate large mammals.

There are things that drivers can do to prevent WVCs, including slowing down — especially in the dark — and being aware of animals near the sides of the road, said CDOT Region 5 Traffic and Safety Engineer Mike McVaugh. Region 5 comprises 15 counties in southwest Colorado.

Dennis Webb of The Daily Sentinel wrote that on some sections of roadway, up to 75% of all traffic accidents are related to wildlife. To prevent this from happening, CDOT has been putting up wildlife fences along some stretches of highway. It is a challenge, however, he notes, because the fencing can cut off key wildlife migration routes. Wildlife overpasses and underpasses can be a better solution, but they are expensive to build.

Image by Bradley Gordon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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