LEWISTON – Fall splendor brings beautiful colors and a reminder from AAA to watch for wildlife and debris on the roads.
According to the Idaho Transportation Department, about 275 single-car crashes last year were the result of striking a wild animal, and another 275 involved a collision with a non-fixed object like road debris. About 460 multi-vehicle crashes involved falling or shifting cargo.
“When you’re driving this fall, please keep in mind that the road is a very dynamic environment. Conditions can change with little or no warning,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “While it’s always important to be an engaged driver, fall is a good time to be extra alert.”
In addition to the danger associated with striking animals or debris, crashes are also caused as drivers swerve to avoid them. According to previous AAA research, attempts to avoid debris resulted in injury 43 percent of the time, in stark contrast to the 16 percent injury rate that occurred when the vehicle actually struck the debris.
“About a third of debris-related crashes occur between 10:00 AM and 3:59 PM, a time when many people are hauling heavy items like furniture or construction equipment, or cumbersome items like pruned tree branches and other landscaping materials,” Conde said. “A big windstorm can also drop debris on the road at any time.”
AAA offers these tips to help drivers have a safe and enjoyable fall:
Watching for Wildlife
- Actively scan the road. In the fall, many large animals are active at dawn and dusk, and many are also coming down from higher elevations during mating season.
- If you see an animal, slow down – many travel in groups of two or three, including deer.
- Keep your headlights clean and use high beams when there’s no oncoming traffic.
- If you see an animal in the road, focus on slowing, not swerving. Swerving could result in a roll-over crash, or you could end up in oncoming traffic.
- Always wear your seat belt. A collision with a large animal can be just as dangerous as hitting another vehicle.
- To scare the animal away, slow down, move over if necessary, and honk the horn.
Dealing with Debris
- Always properly secure your load. Pull on ropes and tiedowns from multiple angles to ensure they are tight and secure. Cover the entire load with a tarp. Failure to secure your load could mean an expensive ticket.
- Take care of your car. Badly worn or underinflated tires can suffer blowouts that produce debris. Regularly inspect your vehicle for loose or corroded parts.
- Avoid tailgating and increase your following distance to have more time to react.
- Use good judgment when opting to avoid road debris. With crumple zones, air bags, seat belts, and advanced braking systems, your vehicle may be better designed for an impact than for taking evasive action to avoid something on the road.
- Drive defensively and maintain a safety cushion around your vehicle. Always have an “out.”
“Idaho is a very beautiful place this time of year, but please don’t get mesmerized by the amazing fall foliage,” Conde said. “It’s better to pull over and take a stroll in a safe location than to be distracted from the highest priority, which is getting to your destination safely.”
While debris-related crashes can occur anywhere, they are four times as likely to occur on Interstate highways, where speeds are higher and reaction time is much shorter.