The Dangers of Moose Accidents on Alaska’s Roadways
Whether you’re headed to Chena Hot Springs Resort for a weekend getaway or just travelling down Chena Hot Springs Road, this is a common drive for both Alaska residents and visitors. The scenery is beautiful, especially when the road enters Chena River State Recreation Area. But people aren’t the only creatures who travel along this road. Moose thrive in this area of Alaska and sometimes wander near the road in search of food. Unfortunately, this means that Chena Hot Springs Road is a hot spot for moose-vehicle collisions that can result in injury or death for you and/or the animal, as well as significant damage to your vehicle. As personal injury attorneys, we at Paskvan & Ringstad, P.C. have seen many injured drivers and passengers who have hit a moose on Alaska’s roadways, and we want to make you very aware of this common threat.
Humans have shared the roads with these animals in Alaska for quite some time, so it is not surprising that we have the highest rate of moose-vehicle crashes in the world. In fact, moose and people prefer similar habitats: low-lying, green areas near rivers and streams. If you live in Alaska, then you’ve likely come in contact with this creature more than once. Our roads often cut through their homes, which creates the biggest safety hazard for people and wildlife. According to How Stuff Works, from 1996 to 2006, 17 people died from moose-related car crashes. But they have it worse than we do: about 130 moose die every year from collisions with cars in Anchorage, Alaska, alone.
Wildlife and roadway researchers have studied moose behavior and accidents for years in an attempt to reduce the number of moose-vehicle collisions on busy roads like Chena Hot Springs Road. Based off their research, there is a good amount of information to know that might reduce your risk of hitting a moose this year.
First, it’s important to understand when you are most likely to hit a moose. While it is impossible to predict exactly when these creatures will make their way to a road or highway, research has revealed when and why they are most likely to hang out in and around the road.
Weather is a big factor in moose-vehicle collisions.
According to a study by the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, there is a spike in moose accidents in December and January. Winter months are a more hazardous time for both driver and animal.
In the winter, drivers’ visibility on roadways is reduced considerably. When the road has a layer of snow on it, or there is snow falling from the sky, you’re likely going to be more focused on navigating the road with your vehicle without sliding off than you are going to be focused on potential wildlife. In winter road conditions, wildlife may not even enter your line of sight before it is too late.
The situation is similar for moose. In the winter, deep snow can make it difficult for them to navigate their terrain and walking through it can make them tired. They often make their way to more clear roadsides for some relief from the deep snow.
In addition to all this, Alaska is dark in the winter. With less daylight, there is even less visibility and everyone must navigate the Alaskan terrain with reduced visibility.
There is another peak in moose-vehicle collisions in the summer, from June to August. According to researchers, this might be because there is an increase in traffic volumes on rural roads, like Chena Hot Springs Road, in the summertime due to an increase in tourism and a more general willingness and ability to travel the roadways. Additionally, June is the month when moose cows are most active with their newborn calves.
So, are there any safe seasons for travel on the roadways that we share? According to the research, the safest months are April and May. In these months, the animals are less active near roadways, resulting in considerably less accidents.
Other factors in moose-vehicle collisions are time and location.
According to the research, most accidents occur at dawn and dusk. They peak in the evening between 5 p.m. and 12 a.m. and in the morning between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. You might recognize these times as rush hour times, or when motorists are most likely to travel between homes, shopping, and recreational areas. But, as it turns out, these are also the most active times for moose. The animals are on the move as they feed, and they feed more often in the morning and the evening than any other time during the day.
Based on inspections, many of the top locations for moose-vehicle collisions are characterized by steeper slopes with overgrown vegetation along the roadway. These conditions affect moose the most: they might be clamoring up the slope while feeding, and heavy vegetation may reduce their visibility (and yours) until they get on to the road surface.
So, how can you prevent moose collisions?
In addition to the research discussed above to make you more aware of the times when these types of accidents occur, there are some steps you can take to prevent moose – vehicle collisions from occurring.
Keep the following tips in mind when you’re traveling in areas where moose are more likely to appear, especially on roads like Chena Springs Road:
- Slow down. Reduce your general driving speed, especially when visibility is limited due to unfamiliar terrain, weather, or glaring headlights of oncoming traffic.
- Be alert for wildlife. Get in the habit of deliberately scanning the side of the road for wildlife of any kind. Keep your focus on the road ahead and be aware of your surroundings when you’re operating a vehicle, especially at night.
- Keep a distance. Increase the space between you and the car in front of you to allow for longer braking distances and reaction time. A moose can walk out on the road in a split second, or they might be grazing on the road right when you come around a bend. It’s important to allow considerable space between you and other vehicles so everyone has enough time to safely react.
- Clean your vehicle headlights and windshield. Since moose can be difficult to see and most accidents occur at dawn and dusk when the light is low, it is vital to have the most visibility possible from your vehicle.
- Know your local “moose hot spots.” Take note of where moose are most commonly seen and where drivers most accidents are reported. We’ve already mentioned Chena Hot Springs Road, but there are plenty of other roads in our area where sightings and collisions are more common.
- Watch for signs. On some roads, there are posted moose crossings that you should watch out for and adjust your driving accordingly. Also, watch for flickering headlights of oncoming traffic—this could indicate that an animal is crossing, or about to cross, the road in front of that oncoming vehicle.
- Look for more. If you do spot and avoid a moose on the side of the road, keep a close eye out for others. Cows often travel with calves—be especially careful if you see a full-grown cow looking behind her after crossing the road.
The car accident attorneys at Paskvan & Ringstad, P.C. know and love Alaska and the wildlife we share our landscape with. We have helped countless clients in Fairbanks and across Alaska after collisions with wildlife or other vehicles. If you’ve been in an accident with wildlife or another driver on Chena Hot Springs Road—or any other roadway—don’t hesitate to contact our office today.