Park City drivers: Brake, but do not swerve, to avoid wildlife
Many Park City-area drivers understand the danger of collisions with wildlife throughout Summit County, one of the risks of living in a mountainous area with national forest lands in addition to the thousands of acres of protected open space on the edge of neighborhoods.
Jay Randall, a Park City Police Department sergeant, must respond to some of the collisions. Randall, who once hit a deer on Meadows Drive while off duty, said drivers must be cautious while navigating wildlife-rich Park City.
He suggested drivers follow posted speed limits. Doing so provides more reaction time for a driver should an animal suddenly dart into a road, he said.
Randall also said drivers should not follow the vehicle in front of them too closely. At night, he said, the headlights of the vehicle in front could startle an animal that is close to the road, leading it to move quickly. The animal could be in the road when the trailing vehicle reaches that point, he said. Randall also said bright lights should be used when they do not interfere with other drivers.
The sergeant recommended drivers brake rather than swerve when they are in danger of hitting an animal. He said swerving endangers the driver as well as nearby vehicles. Randall said animals oftentimes move just before they may be hit, meaning the animal could end up in the path of a vehicle anyway if the driver swerves.
Wild Aware Utah, an organization involving Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, publishes a set of tips meant to prepare people for driving in wildlife habitat. The tips acknowledge a driver “cannot always anticipate the actions of wildlife crossing roads, but we can be better prepared for encounters by learning about wildlife behavior and driving defensively.”
Some of the tips include:
• being alert when driving through the woods, farms and wetland areas as well as when driving close to streams and lakes.
• scanning either side of the road and asking other people in the vehicle to assist in looking for wildlife.
• watching for what is referred to as the “eye shine” of an animal and reduce speed when the animal is seen.
• watching for more than one animal since some species move in groups, meaning there could be additional animals behind the one first seen.
• not throwing trash out of a vehicle since it could attract wildlife toward the road.
Wild Aware Utah also recommends a driver honk the horn and flash the lights if they come across animals in the road. The organization says someone should not “drive through them or get out of the vehicle to chase them.” The organization also says a driver should proceed with caution when they see an animal cross a road since it may attempt a return crossing.