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Road safety: Winter storms and deer

Winter storms and deer crossing highways could lead to a fatal mix in Utah this winter.

Poaching bust
Slowing down and watching for movement along the side of the road—those are the keys to not hitting deer with your car.

Photo by Ron Stewart

Most of Utah's major roads pass through or travel along ranges deer and elk use in the winter. During the winter, deer and elk can be active throughout the day. But they're most active near dawn and dusk—exactly when visibility is at its worst.

Add in the winter storms passing through Utah, and you end up with a potentially fatal mix for motorists and wildlife. In fact, studies have shown that in some high-use winter range areas, the number of deer killed by cars might be equal to or greater than the number of deer taken by hunters in those same areas during the hunting season!

Travel tips

To lessen the chance that you hit a deer or elk this winter:

  • Slow down and travel at a speed that's safe for the condition of the road you're traveling. Just because a highway sign says the legal limit is 65 miles per hour doesn't mean it's safe to travel that speed when there's ice or snow on the road. In icy or snowy conditions, it's likely that you should be driving between 30 and 50 miles per hour—maybe even slower.
  • Pay attention to the highway signs that have the symbol of a deer on them. These signs indicate areas where deer, elk and other wildlife frequently cross the road. And remember that the area where deer and elk might cross the road isn't just the local area where the sign has been placed—the area extends 10 to 20 miles past the sign.

    A recent deer mortality study conducted along 70 miles of U.S. Highway 40 in northeastern Utah gives a snapshot of the number of deer that are killed by vehicles.

    The study found that in 12 sites—each site being one mile in length—more than 40 deer carcasses were removed each year over a five-year period. There were only eight one-mile sites along the 70-mile stretch where workers removed less than 10 deer carcasses per mile.

    And this study focused only on the number of carcasses removed—it did not consider how many deer were hit by vehicles and then wandered away from the road before they died.

    Using studies like this one, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources works closely with the Utah Department of Transportation to determine where to place signs and where to build fences, escape ramps, crossings and other enhancements to help make Utah's roads safer.
  • Watch for movement.

    In addition to slowing down when you see a deer crossing sign or when snow, ice or rain has deteriorated the road conditions, watch for movement. Often the first sign that a deer or an elk is near the road is when a roadside reflector suddenly "blinks." If a deer or elk walks between the reflector and your headlights, it gives the appearance that the light has gone out.

    Again, slow down— the road the animal sees in front of it is the clearest place for it to run. It's likely the animal will jump in front of your car as you approach it. And remember, deer and elk often travel in herds—if you see one, it's likely more animals are in the area.

Be safe this winter. Slow down and watch for deer and elk. It's better to arrive at your destination a few minutes late than not to arrive at all.

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