By Claire Preston
Driving Dos and Don’ts
Don’t throw leftovers out of your car window. Animals like raccoons and skunks will seek out your tossed apple cores and half eaten peanut butter sandwiches to snack on – even if they’re on the road.
It’s the perfect time of year to jump in the car and drive out to enjoy all the beauty that the fall season has to offer. You can see the incredible bursts of colour in the trees, catch flocks of geese migrating south for the winter, and feel the last warm rays of sun on our skin before you need to bundle up. It’s important to remember however that we aren’t the only ones out and about during this wonderful season; many other animals are busy getting ready to hunker down for the winter and are more active than normal, especially near busy roads.
As supporters and lovers of Canadian wildlife, it is our duty to apply constant vigilance while driving in order to avoid collision with our animal friends. Researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Federation will be attending the Road Ecology Conference this fall to keep up to date on the current research and trends concerning wildlife and our roads. But you can do something too to keep wildlife safe! Here are few tips on how to best avoid animals while out on the road.
If you’ve got a long commute to and from work, keep your eyes peeled, because dawn and dusk are the most common times that deer-vehicle collisions occur. Also, keep in mind that deer are particularly active during their mating season from October to December, so accidents are more frequent at this time of year.
The number one thing you can do to avoid hitting a deer on the road is to slow down. No really. Slow. Down. And if you’re driving through a very wooded area or you live on the outskirts of town, be especially vigilant. If you do spot one crossing the road in the distance, know that deer rarely travel alone, so you can bet that another one isn’t too far behind. Slow down and be prepared to brake if you need to.
If the worst case scenario is upon you and collision is unavoidable, your first reaction might be to swerve. Please, don’t. Swerving could actually confuse the scared deer as to which way to run, and you could end up causing a more serious accident with other vehicles on the road. Your best bet is just to slow down and keep a watchful eye out for deer on the roadside.
There are quite a few snakes at risk of extinction in Canada and road mortalities are a major factor contributing to their decline. Snakes not only cross roads, but they also lie on them to sun themselves. It’s also pretty hard to spot them on the road; you’ll have the best chance of spotting them if you reduce your speed and keep your eyes peeled for snake crossing signs. If you happen to spot a snake on the road, slow down and gently veer around it.
These little furry creatures are most often involved in collisions at night, when visibility is at its lowest. As opportunistic omnivores, raccoons can often be found in more populated areas, searching for food that has been left behind. Raccoons usually travel alone, with the exception of mothers with young babies.
If there aren’t any cars around you, go ahead and use those headlights. But be warned. Raccoons can become mesmerized by bright headlights. Flash them a few times to help pull them out of this trance and encourage them to head off the road to safety.
Skunks are also omnivores, and move around at night in search of food. These guys are pretty slow moving, so they aren’t able to scurry away quickly in the event of a potential collision with a vehicle. If you’re on the road at night, keep a look out for the reflection of the animal’s eyes from your headlights - they may provide you with enough time to brake and avoid a collision.
Chipmunks, Rabbits and Squirrels
Small mammals are twitchy and unpredictable, so it’s especially important to be alert if you see one on the side of the road. These critters try to outsmart predators by darting quickly from one direction to another. If you’re approaching them in your car, they’ll consider you a threat and as a result, may continuously change their routes (to outsmart you, you see!). The best thing to do when you see a small mammal on the road is to slow right down and wait for it to cross to safety. Only stop, of course, if it’s safe to do so; don’t put any other drivers in danger.
Groundhogs tend to act a lot like cats on the road – they walk, low to the ground, trying to avoid being spotted. So many people mistake them for cats. Unfortunately, groundhogs move only half as fast as felines, so they need a little more time to get across the street before you zoom past them.
To address this, CWF has embarked on two projects targeting turtles and road mortalities. A study just outside of Ottawa is looking at hotspots of turtle mortality on a highway that is slated for upgrading (from Arnprior to Pembrooke) This research will help inform where to put in crossing structures and turtle fencing to keep turtles from being struck on the roads. And our Saving Turtles At Risk Today program launched in the Muskokas is carrying out a number of recovery activities, one of which is researching and responding to turtles seen on roads.
Every freshwater turtle, with the exception of the B.C. painted turtle, is at some level of at risk of extinction. The culprit: roads. Turtles cross roads frequently to nest, and at this time of year, to find a good site to overwinter. Females are particularly drawn to roads since they often nest on gravelly shoulders in the spring. It takes up to 18 years for a turtle to be old enough to reproduce, so the loss of turtles (especially females) means fewer young will be born. Since turtles don’t move quickly and make their move on roads during the day, they should be pretty easy to avoid. They tend to look a bit shiny in the distance so if you stay alert while driving you’ll have time to stop. The biggest help we can give to our endangered turtles is to make sure we slow down and avoid them. If the road is clear and it’s safe to do so, you can give a hand, literally, by moving the turtle off the road. Always be sure to move the turtle in the direction it was going.