Coalition working to reduce deer-car collisions
By Jenn Watt
Incidents of vehicle collisions caused by deer are down across Haliburton County, with work ongoing to further reduce the chance that motorists will hit an animal, or get into an accident because of one.
Liane Spong-Hooyenga, detachment commander with the Haliburton Highlands OPP, said the police, the County of Haliburton, and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry have been collaborating to make roads safer and help the public avoid wildlife collisions.
The OPP’s analysis of the first six months of 2019 show that overall car-deer collisions are down when compared to the same time period in 2018.
“Overall, the number of car-deer collisions in the Haliburton Highlands area decreased over the first six months of the year with 103 occurrences in 2018 and 84 occurrences in 2019,” she said in an email to the Echo.
Looking at the three main roadways in the county, Spong-Hooyenga said numbers were up on County Road 21 with nine more collisions this year, but down by 13 on Highway 35, and down by 11 on Highway 118. Compared to last year’s deer population, numbers are stable, the MNRF confirmed to the Echo.
Brian Mulholland, engineering assistant with the county’s public works department, said County Road 21 is known to be one of the more challenging roads when it comes to avoiding deer.
“County Road 21 jumped out at us as a real one that we needed to see what we could do in terms of practical solutions,” Mulholland said.
The ratio of deer strikes to cars on County Road 21 is higher than the rest of the roadways in the county, he said.
The county’s roads department has been working over the last couple of years to make conditions better for drivers. They conducted an intense maintenance operation specifically on County Road 21, removing mature vegetation that had crept up to the roadside.
“The trees obscured the Bell line along one side of the road. You wouldn’t even know there was a Bell cable or a Bell line,” he said. The county approached Bell about the work they were doing and Bell Canada contributed financially to the work.
They’ve also kept a regular brushing schedule along the other county roads, which is done using a unit that extends from the shoulder of the road and clips down light vegetation. This improves sightlines for motorists and has the added benefit of improving road conditions during the icy season by letting more sunlight onto the pavement to melt ice.
“If there is an animal entering onto the roadway, you’re probably going to have a better opportunity to see it as it approaches versus having the brush right out to the edge of the roadway,” Mulholland said.
Additionally, the county has incorporated paved shoulders with new capital works projects, which gives drivers more space to get their car under control if they suddenly come upon a deer.
“If you have to hit your brakes because there’s an animal coming on the road, you have that additional area to bring your vehicle to a safe stop,” Muholland said.
The county’s two digital radar signs can also be strategically placed in deer-crossing hotspots to get drivers to slow down.
Spong-Hooyenga said that a couple years ago, Haliburton County had the second highest rate of wildlife collisions in the province. And while this decrease in incidents is certainly welcome, deer and other wildlife are still a frequent hazard for drivers.
Pauline Johnson was heading home with her husband Bob from an event in Haliburton July 17 when they hit a deer, which died near the road.
“We couldn’t see it in the dusk when we hit it and it got dark quickly by the time the police got there,” Johnson said. “We thought it might have run off.”
When the couple found the deer carcass the next morning, they weren’t sure what to do about it.
“We felt somehow that we should tell someone,” she said, but couldn’t get through on the MNRF’s line.
Although they eventually found a company that agreed to remove the deer, she wondered about the proper protocol.
Mulholland said the county roads department has responsibility for removing roadkill on its roads, which they take back to their patrol yard and bury. They take calls from police or members of the public when there’s something that needs to be removed.
Aside from improving road conditions to improve visibility and room to manoeuvre, drivers still need to remember to avoid swerving for wildlife whenever possible. OPP analysis shows that several accidents in the Highlands have involved people losing control of their vehicles after swerving to avoid wildlife.
“It is difficult to avoid the urge to swerve and avoid an animal, however swerving is very dangerous and can suddenly involve more vehicles,” Spong-Hooyenga said. “This is where motorists also can help themselves. If safe to do so, slowing down and braking while staying in a lane is the ideal, but again, only if safe to do so, and that involves drivers being vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times, and in this case particularly if there is another motorist behind you.”
Mulholland said it’s been rewarding to see the number of collisions decrease following efforts to improve road conditions and increase education through radio-based public service announcements.
However, he’d still like to see incidents drop on County Road 21, though with variables such as deer populations and increased traffic volumes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what would drive those numbers down.