(ABC4) – Why did the deer cross the road?

To get to the other side, of course.

That’s less of a bad joke and more of a fact for the fall months, as deer in Utah begin to migrate from their summer habitats in the higher elevation areas to their winter surroundings in the lower elevation regions.

It’s also a warning to Utah drivers, many of whom will be making their evening commutes in the dark. Thanks to daylight saving time, this is the perfect storm for animal-related collisions in the state.

“It’s the time of year when deer move from their high elevation summer areas, down to lower areas for the winter and sometimes they move pretty far,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Migration Initiative Coordinator Daniel Olson explains to ABC4.com. “We have some animals that move 70-80 miles. Sometimes they have to cross roads and go through developed areas to make those migrations. So that’s why they end up on the road in front of the car when they’re trying to do that.”

There have already been quite a few deer-vehicle collisions this year. DWR states that over 3,500 such crashes have been reported in 2021. Some years, that number can climb as high as 10,000.

In an effort to mitigate the number of incidents, the DWR is working with the Utah Department of Transportation to install what are essentially ‘deer crosswalks’ in areas with a high number of animals looking to make their way across a busy road.

One of the first installments of these innovative features can be found on Highway 73, by Eagle Mountain’s city limits. It works as a combination of classic crowd funneling methods along with infrared technology. Eight-foot-high fencing around the road prevents the deer from crossing anywhere but through a small gap in the barricade. Soon, that gap will also be supplemented by a light that turns on when an animal is found on an infrared detector, alerting drivers of the potential hazard.

Providing a crosswalk for the animals will be essential to the safety of the antlered creatures, and the non-antlered creatures behind the wheel of a vehicle. Due to their build — they have fairly short legs that make stomping around in the higher-elevation snow nearly impossible — and their attitude — Olson says they’re “really motivated” to migrate — deer are always going to be an obstacle for drivers in Utah.

Drivers need to take extra precautions, especially as the cold sets in around the state, because, well, good luck explaining the dangers of traffic to a deer.

“Even if it’s across a busy road, if people see deer on the shoulder of the road, they’re trying to cross,” Olson says. “So, they need to be really careful.”

The DWR has provided the following tips and guidelines for drivers, who may be unwillingly sharing the road with migrating animals this fall:

  • Be especially alert at dawn and dusk.
  • Heed wildlife crossing signs. These signs are usually placed in areas known to have a high volume of wildlife/vehicle collisions.
  • Be alert on roadways near wooded, agricultural, and wetland areas and also near lakes and streams.
  • Scan both sides of the road as you drive. Invite passengers to help watch for wildlife.
  • Do not drive distracted. Put away food, phones, and other distractions.
  • When possible, use high-beam headlights to better illuminate the road.
  • Look for an animal’s eyeshine, which can be seen from a distance. Slow down once you have spotted an animal near the roadside.
  • Some animals travel in groups, so be sure to watch for additional animals if you see one.
  • Do not throw trash out of your vehicle. Not only are there penalties for littering on a highway, but trash and food scrap can also draw animals to roadways.

What to do if you see an animal on or near the road

  • Do not swerve for a deer or small animals. Stay in your lane and slow down.
  • If several animals are standing in the road, do not try to drive through them or get out of the vehicle to chase or herd them. Honk your horn and flash your lights to encourage them to move on.
  • If an animal has crossed the road, continue to drive slowly and be cautious because it may try to cross again. 

What to do if you hit an animal

  • Pull off the road and use your hazard lights if your car is undrivable.
  • Do not try to approach an injured animal.
  • Call 911 or contact your local police department if you were injured or if the animal is in the roadway and could pose a threat to public safety.