One evening in the fall of 1986 I was driving along the highway at a relatively modest 90 km/hr when I spotted a moose running toward the road in front of the car. I locked up the brakes but estimate the car was still moving around 30 km/hr when it hit the animal. As expected, the moose slid across the bonnet, crushing it, and partially smashed the windshield. The moose limped off to the side of the road and I pulled over. Luckily nobody in the car was seriously hurt. The moose was not so lucky. The RCMP officer who attended the accident put it down with a single shot from her service pistol.
Two years later, on my wedding night, while driving to St. John’s in the fog I narrowly avoided another moose standing right in the middle of my lane. Luckily I was driving relatively slowly (around 70 km/hr) and was able to stop in time.
There are a lot of moose vehicle accidents in my province. The number rose from about 100 per year to around 400 per year through the 1980s. Through most of the intervening years to 2008 the average was in the low 400s per year. After 2008, though, that number again rose significantly. It now runs in the mid 700s. This, despite the fact that the moose population is not rising—in fact the statistics seem to indicate that it has dropped somewhat since the nineties, assuming the population counts are accurate.
People are concerned. It’s not hard to find stories related to moose-vehicle accidents in the media. Unfortunately, it’s also not hard to also find some solutions that are not really practical. Here’s a smattering:
- Wipe out the population: Right—let’s go at it with the guns in the woods. Only 115,000 so that won’t take much more than a half-million shots or so. Can you just imagine the chaos that would happen if we were actually stupid enough to try it? Besides (a) the moose hunting ‘industry’ is very good for the economy and, more importantly (b) there’s this word: ‘stewardship.’ Need more be said?
- Construct moose fences to keep the moose off all of the highways. Just for chuckles, let’s do the math. We won’t consider the smaller roads, just the main ones. Here’s the list: Route 1, the Trans-Canada Highway, Route 210, 230, 320, 330, 340, 360, 410, 430, 480, 500, 510 are QC 389, 138. A conservative estimate puts the combined distance at around 4000 km. Though many of the people pushing this say the cost should be around $50,000/km a similar fence specification done in New Brunswick was initially budgeted at around $75,000/km so (one side only–and you have to do both sides) we will use that (instead of living in fantasy land). Here we go…multiplying gives us a cost of $600 million. Want me to say that again? Oh…and, of course it will have to be replaced every 20 years or so.
- Enact legislation to reduce the maximum highway speed from 100 to 90 km/hr after dark. Get real. Right now the posted limit is 100 and hardly anyone follows it, except in fog or snow. It is simply unrealistic to think that passing legislation reducing the limit will have any significant change unless a massive increase in law enforcement is done at the same time—unlikely.
So, is this to suggest that we do nothing about the problem? Of course not! The current situation is critical and something must be done. That said, we must make sure that what is done is first and foremost effective and secondly, affordable. As I see it, the above proposed solutions are neither.
It’s useful to look into the reasons why the accidents are on the rise. Many people assume it is simply due to the perceived increased moose population. This can hardly be true—at least if the available population estimates are accurate. The reasons must be elsewhere. In the absence of hard data one can speculate, though.
Start by considering the traffic on the highways. In recent years the roads have been improved significantly. They are straighter, wider. People that have grown used to rounded edges in their houses and playgrounds now somehow expect highways to be safer too. Now consider people’s lives: busier in small ways; more frequent trips to stores to buy less items each trip; classes here, sports activities there. Of course there’s the ever-present electronic devices: smartphones, mp3 players, GPS, and such to fiddle with.
Put it together and you get this:
- People are doing more highway driving.
- Highway driving is see as more of a casual affair.
- Speeds have increased.
- Drivers are more distracted.
It’s not hard to see how increased moose/vehicle accidents have increased. The moose themselves have had very little to do with it.
Yet, proposed solutions all seem to assume that the moose are at fault. Too many to be convenient—kill them, fence them away.
So, how about we look at it a bit differently? Let’s layer in practical considerations such as cost, balance and overall feasibility. Most importantly let’s take the real factors into account as well. The result will not be a single solution. Rather, it will be an overall strategy. Here are some suggested broad strokes.
- Construct moose fences in strategic locations only. Go with what we can afford. We keep good records of where the accidents occur. A good detailed study (or a panel of RCMP highway patrol officers and seasoned drivers) could locate the hotspots for accidents so we could construct fences/underpasses in those locations.
- Ensure that brush and trees are adequately cleared from roadways. Moose are hard to see against the background of trees so ensure that open spaces exist between the roads and surrounding woods.
- Control the moose population selectively. Yes, there are places where the number of moose is dangerously high. In those smaller selected regions it would be acceptable to reduce the number through the issuing of increased numbers of hunting permits or through direct control by wildlife officers.
And now the big ones.
- Engage in a public information campaign to increase public awareness around the key driver-related issues. Specifically: the need for drivers to (a) be much more vigilant, especially at night (b) reduce the amount of nighttime highway driving as much as possible and, finally, (c) slow down when the conditions warrant.
- Where possible, implement increased cost-effective measures to enforce existing legislation related to highway safety. This may include automated speed and distracted driving detection/ticketing technology in key locations.
…all with ample warning, of course. We are not setting out to punish and fine drivers, just to make them stop doing the stupid things than can get them—and others—killed.