500 kilos of Reinforced Meat…on a Stick: Pt. 2

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.

CBC image of a moose near the road.

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.

CBC image of moose fence

  • 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.

Photo courtesy of Brad Sheppard.

Photo courtesy of Brad Sheppard.

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.
Photo courtesy of Brad Sheppard.

Photo courtesy of Brad Sheppard.

…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.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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16 Responses to 500 kilos of Reinforced Meat…on a Stick: Pt. 2

  1. Part 1 was a doozy, so glad you got the scary part over in the begining! 🙂 Constructive suggestions laid out; let’s see if ppl pay attention or more importanly become more vigilant while driving so as not to hit this beautiful creatures. I would have had a more drastic suggestion like no insurance for coverage for hitting these LARGE beauties!

    • Thanks! Yes, as I see it vigilance is the biggest thing here. Many people just seem to feel that nothing much can go wrong…and act accordingly. That bit of mindfulness is so important on the road. …and while we are on it, it’s just as important everywhere. Don’t you just hate it when you are trying to talk to someone and they just up and answer the phone right in the middle of things? Don’t mind if we are talking about ‘nothing’ but when it’s right in the end of something important! There’s a certain ‘presence’ that seems to be lacking. Lack of vigilance on the roads is one symptom…

      • My guess: too much insecurity. Its like their worrying that if they don’t answer they will never get another call in their lifetime! Ppl do call back, and our conversation is not going to last FOREVER. And then I can call them back! I hear ya!

  2. johnlmalone says:

    looks like I’m first cab off the rank on this one: oh dear, that puts the pressure on. A thought provoking article. that’s a lot of moose being killed and people being hurt. In Australia we have a similar problem with kangaroos but have no idea what the stats are

    • I actually looked it up on an insurance bureau website. Looks like about 200 per year up until the mid nineties. But here is something interesting: last year there were over 11,000 insurance claims reported for kangaroo-related accidents! Looks like something the same is happening in Australia.

  3. Let’s face it, you can make it fool proof but not damn fool proof! People have so many more distractions while driving – how about some more common sense? Though it doesn’t seem to be as common as it used to be.

    When I lived in Australia in a very small town in NSW, a couple of people I knew had a run in with kangaroos, unfortunately the kangaroo cane off second best. One difficultly is the kangaroo was usually tensed up ready for a jump – like hitting a brick wall.

    • Right you are. I checked this morning and it looks like Kangaroo accidents are through the roof too. My guess: same reason. The bottom line is that people are too distracted–a situation that is equally deadly for people and wildlife.

  4. ah, the comment above, the roos eh? My partner hit one in a toyota Land cruiser at night. The toyota was reparable, the roo sadly not. He’s never liked driving at night since then and that was 30 years ago. Not that there are a lot of roos in Gib or Spain 😀

    I’m coming from two incredibly biased perspectives, 1) vegetarian and animal rights supportist 2) a real speed fascist. By which, I mean, I see no reason why people don’t keep to speed limits. Get up earlier or set off earlier or whatever, or accept arriving late. I just don’t get the need to break the law. I will drive up to the limit and that’s it. Do I need to drive at 80/90/100 mph if the limit is 70? No. I certainly don’t need to drive fast, if at all, at night.

    Anyway they look to be beautiful animals and deserve some respect and their own space. (And not to be made into sausages!)

    • We do have common ground there. I feel the same way about speed. Frankly, if people are in a hurry then they should realize that speeding to make up lost time can be deadly. Better to just take the time and leave early enough!

      While I’m not a vegetarian I certainly am right there with you on the notion that we share this planet with others. Our current ‘advantage’ only means that we should show more responsibility; more stewardship. This means that ‘solutions’ should deal with the causes. It’s my contention that a significant root cause is not an out-of-control moose population (it’s actually declining) but, rather, flawed driving habits (distracted, too fast, too many frivolous trips, overly aggressive, etc.).

      • My problem is I learned to drive before mobile ‘phones were invented. Why answer a ‘phone when driving? Just not necessary.

        Apart from the roo story, my partner was driving somewhere (totally sober) and someone was overtaking recklessly. ‘We’ll pass them in the ditch’ he said. They did. Luckily not dead. Oh and it was snowing too.

        I did read your comments about the moose population declining 😦 and better stewardship is an excellent idea. If anyone wants to pay for it.

        Driving has become too easy and too much the norm. That’s why we try to walk, bus, cycle as much as possible. We try and avoid hitting the monkeys when we walk around Gib of course …

  5. mojobetty says:

    I visited NFLD in 2007, (I’m dying to go back!), and we were advised to avoid driving at night all together because of the moose. Sadly, this meant we didn’t get to visit L’anse aux Meadows because it was too far from where we were staying and we only had time for a day trip that day.
    On a side note, today’s CBC’s Vinyl Cafe is taking place in Gander. 🙂

    • I love the Vinyl Cafe too. My kids (well, young adults would me more like it) laugh at me when I listen to ‘The Stuart.”

      You were well advised to stay off that stretch of highway. The bit from Gros Morne Parl running up the Great Northern Penninsula has quite a few moose…and caribou too. Some great known history there too. Halfway up at Port Aux Choix you’ll find a museum detailing some of the history of our first inhabitants–dates to about 6000 years ago, in fact! L’Anse aux Meadows is, of course, of global significance–the only authenticated viking settlement (make no mistake–there were others stretching down at least as far as Mains; lost to modern ‘development’ I fear. Just across the strait, in Labrador you’ll also find the ancient Basque site of Red bay. Evidence on hand dates it to at least back to 1504 but I suspect it’s history goes back quite a bit further than that. The Basque tend to keep secrets, even to this day, and a rick whaling ground like that part of the strait–too valuable to share.

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