Millions of animals die on U.S. roads every year. Reductions in night-time driving would stem future senseless loss of wildlife.
While data is difficult to come by for the number of animals killed on the 4.17 million miles of roads in the U.S., author and nature photographer Mark Mathew Braunstein wrote that an estimated 1 million animals are killed on U.S. roads each day. After a recent road trip in the Midwest, I wondered if the estimate of 1 million daily deaths isn’t too small a number.
On a 700-mile round-trip between Oklahoma City and Kansas City in late October, I counted 178 animal victims of vehicular hits, with the body count higher as I got nearer to Kansas City. The landscape of pumping units, hay bales, windmills and fall foliage was diminished by so much death.
As the miles ticked by, emotions were up and down, sadness seeing what looked like more remains of yet another dead animal, but then relief to see just more shredded tires from blowouts, an abandoned child’s stuffed animal bunny toy or other detritus. Sometimes there were lone victims; sometimes pairs or threesomes – a calico cat, maybe a dog, skunks, raccoons, armadillos, eight deer, unknown species in pieces spread across multiple car lengths and animals no longer identifiable.
With miles and miles of unbreaking cement divider separating the lanes for drivers heading north on I-35 from those heading south, there’s been no thought of how the chicken will cross the road, let alone “Why did the chicken cross the road?” But even if that solid concrete impediment weren’t there with four lanes of traffic – more in other parts of the country – and with vehicles traveling 75 mph (or 85 or 90 mph), the likelihood of successful animal crossings no doubt would probably still be low. About 100 cougars are killed each year on California’s roadways, some of the busiest in the world.
This carnage on the roads contributes not just to reductions in wildlife, but it also impacts humans. The hundreds of thousands of animal fatalities without end on the roads result in 26,000 human injuries and 200 deaths, and vehicular damage. Crashes with animals translate to annual costs of $8 billion.
With an estimated U.S. population of more than 30 million deer, there are ample opportunities for the unfortunate intersection of particularly lethal incidents between deer and moving vehicles. Just in Pennsylvania, the state synonymous with deer – think the 1978 film, “The Deer Hunter” – nearly 142,000 deer were struck by vehicles in reported claims to insurers. So the number could be higher.
Senseless death coupled with practical costs are ample reasons to look at how to significantly reduce losses. One way would be to stop driving at night. Nearly half of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities happen at night (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.), a rate that is three times higher than daytime fatalities, according to a 2007 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 25 percent of driving is during darkness, and speeding was a factor in 37 percent of night crashes. Driving at night is just more dangerous, the National Safety Council tells us.
In addition to reducing or eliminating night driving, because it’s safer for humans, with so many nocturnal animals, it’s good for them too. Let’s give them back the night!
That might not be a difficult choice for many. For the trucking industry, however, it likely that would send shockwaves, certainly if there were any movement towards nonvoluntary participation. Nearly 4 million drivers – owner-operator truckers – hold commercial driver’s licenses, and they are the ones responsible for delivering 70 percent of all freight in the country. Delivery schedules, driving preferences and traffic are factors of when they drive. Cities with high traffic are just easier to navigate when there are fewer vehicles on the roads, which generally will be early morning hours. Current backlog issues at U.S. ports have only exacerbated driving schedules for truckers.
Just in the U.S., the chances of keeping a portion of the 290 million cars off the roads at night to save lives would seem remote, seen as overreach to our freedom. It would take a mighty re-education campaign, which likely would still result in refusal by probably half of the population based on past and current polarization on other issues.
Yet, it is a real option should enough Americans deem it more important to save millions of lives than to have unfettered access to roads at night.
Copyright 2021 Maria Fotopoulos, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on Facebook @BetheChangeforAnimals and [email protected].