Driving Safety – Animals in the Road

Originally published Sept. 16, 2015

Construction workers spend hundreds of hours on roadways, and even they are surprised when an animal darts out in the road.

One of the nation’s leading automobile insurers estimates that 1.23 million deer/vehicle collisions occurred in the United States between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, costing more than $4 billion in vehicle damage. The average claim for a deer/vehicle collision during that time was $3,305 – up 4.4 percent from the previous year. Over the last four years, the number of deer-related claims paid by this insurer increased 7.9 percent, while other claims declined 8.6 percent. These included moving vehicles first-party, physical damage claims not caused by weather, criminal activity and fire. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that deer/vehicle collisions in the United States cause approximately 200 fatalities and 29,000 injuries annually.

In addition to deer, drivers kill many other types of animals on Indiana roadways each year. Each incident has the possibility for human fatality as well. Signs that indicate animals may be close enough to the roadway to pose a safety hazard include:

  • Caution signs indicating animal crossings.
  • Animals close to the road. Many animals travel in groups. If you see one, there are likely more that you don’t see. Slow down, and stay alert.
  • Animal carcasses on the road could mean there are more animals nearby – particularly smaller animals like possums and raccoons scavenging for food.
  • Deer activity peaks from October to December, and nearly half of deer/vehicle collisions happen then. Fall is also a busy time for squirrels and other small animals to gather food and begin nesting for winter. Tree-lined streets become safety hazards when cars swerve to avoid these animals.

Tips to remember:

  • If an animal jumps in front of your vehicle, do not swerve. Brake firmly and calmly. Swerving can cause your vehicle to leave the roadway or hit an oncoming vehicle.
  • Nearly 90 percent of animal/vehicle collisions happen at dawn or dusk, so be especially alert during these low visibility times.
  • Remember to wear your seat belt every time you are in a vehicle. A properly worn seat belt can reduce injuries and possibly save your life in a collision.

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Roadside Hazard

Standing next to the roadside is one of the most hazardous exposures in the construction industry. This is true on highways, county roads and city streets. Drivers run off the roadway for a number of reasons, including: distractions, drunk driving, excessive speed and inexperience. Thousands of crashes take place each year as a result of vehicles hitting mailboxes, trees, telephone poles, other vehicles and, unfortunately, human beings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 5,687,000 vehicle crashes in 2013 resulting in 32,719 deaths. This statistic is thought provoking. That would be half the population of Terre Haute, Ind., or the full population of Beech Grove and Brownsburg, Ind. combined.

The NHTSA also reported that 4,735 people were killed standing on or near the roadway in 2013, and another 66,000 were seriously injured. Construction workers should take seriously the possibility that a vehicle may swerve to the side or completely leave the roadway at any time, and do everything in their power to avoid being hit.

Never let your work on or near roadways become so routine that you become complacent about your safety. The motoring public won’t always pay attention to or obey work zone laws. Practicing the following guidelines will help you manage your behavior and help keep you safe when working on or near a roadway:

  1. Never stand between the roadway and a vehicle to carry on a conversation. If a vehicle swerved off the road toward you, you would be sandwiched between the two vehicles with no escape route.
  2. Never turn your back to oncoming traffic. The ability to see an oncoming vehicle gives you the opportunity to move out of the way if necessary.
  3. Do not ignore traffic conditions or the work surroundings while talking on your cell phone. You may fail to notice the potentially dangerous actions of others if you’re distracted.
  4. Wait for large gaps in oncoming traffic before crossing travel lanes. A vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour covers 88 feet in one second. Give yourself enough time to clear the travel lane before the next vehicle approaches, and walk carefully to the other side. Don’t be in such a hurry that you risk losing your footing.

Vehicular traffic is part of our everyday experience in roadway work zones. Do your part to stay safe.