Speed Study To Stop Wildlife Crashes

Nov 29, 2016

Credit USFWS Mountain Prairie

A scientist says more than 6,000 deer are hit and killed on Wyoming roads each year, causing more than $50 million in injuries and damage to cars and wildlife. One scientist is studying the new nighttime speed limits to see if they really work.

A roadside trail cam shows what we see too often in Wyoming; deer hit and killed by motorists who may not see them until it’s too late. The animal loses, and so does the motorist. A researcher told wildlife managers at the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee in Cody recently, nine grizzly bears were also hit and killed by cars heading to Yellowstone this year.

Wyoming’s Department of Transportation is trying a new experiment, to see if they can slow down cars on a winter range near Cody, and save elk, deer, moose, sheep, and even bison that cross the Yellowstone highway in Wapiti. They told a crowd of Wapiti neighbors the new 70 mph speed limit will soon be replaced with slower daytime and nighttime speed limits.

The signs will be changed in Wapiti around December 1, and the speed limit will go down here from 70 mph to 65 mph for a daytime speed limit, and 55 mph at night.

Several of Wapiti’s residents had asked for a lower speed limit. But, a few expressed concern with the lower speed limit.

Jeff Poffenbarger said studies on urban highways show, “Variable speed limits are not the way to increase safety.”

Dr. Corinna Riginos is studying the effectiveness of daytime and nighttime speed limits. She presented her study at the Wildlife Society meeting in Cody on Thursday.

Riginos said, “There haven’t been that many studies on it, and because of that we are not embarking on a two year study in southwestern Wyoming to look really carefully and do a really good study design to look at the effects of reducing speed limits at night, and see if that can bring down speeds and reduce the number of deer that get hit on roads.”

Dr. Riginos said people often ignore speed limits. WYDOT’s challenge is to change driver behavior. Riginos suggests temporary speed limits may get more attention than lower speed limits posted year round. She’s studying that, too.

She explained, “Drivers modify their behavior and slow down when they know this is here for a short period of time during the peak collision season.”

WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers said slower nighttime speed limits will eventually be enforced just during the winter in Wapiti. But that will have to wait on expensive electronic signs that can be changed each season.