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5/5/2012 4:03:00 PM
Vehicles and animals don't mix
A wildlife encounter to avoid
Avoiding a run-in
• While there are many road signs warning to be alert for deer and elk, don't assume that these are the only places you'll find them. Through the spring, as they migrate to higher ground, they can be quite mobile. They also tend to congregate on roadsides where runoff makes for green forage. Also don't assume that fences will keep them off the road. Elk can jump fences as high as six feet.

• Drive at a safe speed, no more than 90 kph or 55 mph in good conditions, more slowly in snow or rain. Even if you see an animal too late to avoid hitting it, the impact will be less intense at a lower speed.

• Stay alert and scan both sides of the road for signs of wildlife - movement, animal shapes or the reflection of their eyes.

• Be especially wary around sunset to midnight and in the early dawn as this is when animals are most active.

• Use your high beams where possible and don't overdrive your headlights.

• Be alert to the other drivers. If you see hazard lights ahead, slow down and pay attention as an animal could be in the road well behind the disabled vehicle. Some drivers, if they've seen numerous animals along the road, will flash their high beams to oncoming cars as a warning to be extra-vigilant. If a car in front of you swerves or brakes suddenly, slow down or stop. Deer and elk are herd animals so where there's one, there are likely to be more.

• Don't expect animals to act rationally. They may not move for oncoming headlights or honking horns and if they do try to run, it may not be in the right direction to get out of the way in time.

• Know when NOT to swerve. If you suddenly have a deer or elk in front of you, brake firmly. Do not leave your lane, as most fatalities are the result of losing control trying to avoid the animal. If you're heading into a collision with an elk, duck as low as you can. Because of their height and center of balance, they tend to get thrown over the hood and into the windshield, crushing the car roof.

• Even if injuries are minor, victims can suffer shock. If it's cold, put on something warm and if possible, stay in the car for warmth. In some areas it can take as long as an hour for help to arrive.

• Avoid going near the animal unless you are completely certain that it is dead. Otherwise, it may kick or gore from fear and pain. If it is dead and behind your car, use road flares or triangles to warn others.

Call the police immediately or flag down help.


While you may hope for a glimpse of wildlife during your visit to the Grand Canyon, there's one animal encounter you don't want - one between your vehicle and several hundred pounds of animal.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions are not uncommon in northern Arizona, where long, lonely stretches of road cut through miles of prime big game habitat. In fact, animals are one of the major causes of accidents in Canyon country.

While mule deer, mountain lions, javalina and coyotes are common here, emergency workers respond to more collisions with elk than any other animal just because of the nature of the beast. Grown females average about 650 pounds while bulls can weigh well over 700, rendering a car undriveable.

Fortunately, most vehicle occupants suffer relatively minor injuries. The most common consequences of a direct hit, aside from the trauma and the possibility of being spattered with something nasty, are bruising from the impact and some cuts from flying glass if the animal comes up over the hood and into the windshield. A bull elk's antlers add another dimension of risk and increase the potential for injury.

The most serious injuries and fatalities tend to happen when drivers swerve to avoid a collision and lose control instead.

The bottom line? Remember you're not only sharing the road with other vehicles but also with large animals that don't realize you're heading their way.

Related Links:
• View guide as seen in print (PDFs)
• Table of Contents


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