Potential Hazards

Crash Highlights Perils Of Wildlife On Local Roads

A deer crossing sign is pictured on Hunt Road just outside Jamestown. A crash Monday between a car and cow has highlighted the many objects motorists may encounter while on the road. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

A crash late Monday in which a car struck a cow on Route 60 and burst into flames has highlighted the many perils drivers — and ultimately wildlife and other animals — may encounter while on the road.

First responders were called to Sinclairville around 10:35 p.m. after a northbound car struck the cow that had wandered onto the road. No one was injured in the crash, though the animal died at the scene, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said.

The somewhat unusual collision caused the car to erupt in flames.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone said there is always the risk of collisions with wildlife due to the region’s rural roads close to fields, woods and farms. In addition to deer, motorists also have to be vigilant for farm animals, rodents and even Amish horses and buggies, Quattrone said. For the latter, the sheriff said law enforcement has been working with the Amish to improve safety for those operating the buggies and the public using the same roads.

“We’re working with the communities to try to improve the lighting and labeling of their slow-moving vehicles,” Quattrone said, noting in particular the high Amish population locally.

The scene on Route 60 in Sinclairville following Monday night’s crash. No one was injured in the incident, though the cow died. Submitted photo

Other wildlife may pose dangers on the road as well. Local police can respond to several calls a night for deer struck by cars, and with dozens of farms throughout the county, the possibility of animals finding themselves on the road is always present, Quattrone said.

“We have to be aware of that,” Quattrone said of animals on the road. “We have to be willing to drive defensively.”

Hoping to combat the number of collisions between wildlife and vehicles, the Federal Highway Administration issued a report to Congress in 2008. One of the major factors identified in the report was the need to improve the “consistency and precision” of data collection on wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs).

When the report was published, 89 percent of collisions occurred on two-lane roads.

“This might lead some people to conclude that WVCs are only a problem in remote, rural locations, but two-lane roads and WVCs are also prevalent in areas where many people live and commute to work in nearby cities,” the report said. “Such two-lane highways are critical travel corridors, and, in the United States, drivers use two-lane roadways for the majority of the total highway miles they travel.

Therefore, WVCs are a challenge in every state and for almost all drivers across the country.”

The number of estimated collisions every year between wildlife and vehicles varies dramatically — from as low as 300,000 incidents annually in the United States to as many as two million. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, there were about 361,000 reported crashes between vehicles and all animals in 2016, the most recent data. That’s up from the 278,000 reported in 2015 and 266,000 in 2014.

However, the Federal Highway Administration said many crashes are never reported to the police.

“Crash databases typically exclude accidents that have less than $1,000 in property damage, not all drivers report collisions with animals and not all law enforcement, natural resource or transportation agencies have the resources to collect detailed information on WVCs,” the report said. “Furthermore, many animals that are injured wander away from the road before they die and are never found.”

Statistics gathered from insurance carriers and police reports indicate that in 95 percent of collisions with animals, no one is injured. In fact, of the 361,000 crashes reported in 2016, only 23,000 resulted in injuries of which 181 resulted in fatalities.

“Collisions with moose and other large animals can have a higher likelihood of resulting in harm to the vehicle occupant,” the study found.

Brad Bentley, Chautauqua County director of public facilities, said the county is known for its large agricultural industries. That means plenty of rural roads occupied by cars, buses, tractor-trailers, farming equipment and animals.

“We need to be extra vigilant for both wild animals and domesticated ones,” Bentley said. “Whenever you’re going over a ridge, there could always been something in the road.”

Bentley also pointed out that deer have become popular in the city of Jamestown. “It’s not uncommon in Chautauqua County to have obstructions in the road,” he said.

Eric Zavinski contributed to this story.